FDA Moves Closer to Banning Trans Fats

It’s been widely known for years that trans fats can raise your “bad cholesterol” and contribute to heart disease. In response, the U.S. government is moving a step closer to a ban.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it’s moving toward ridding the American diet of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods.

Trans fats are found in everything from french fries, frozen pizzas and cake mixes to microwave popcorn, coffee creamers and the margarine you may spread on your morning toast. It is made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation, which makes food stay fresher longer.

However, this process increases a person’s cholesterol more than do other types of fats. It increases LDL (low-density lipoprotein), the “bad” cholesterol, and decreases HDL (high-density lipoprotein), the “good” cholesterol.

The FDA said it has opened a 60-day comment period on the determination that trans fats in processed foods is not “generally recognized as safe.”

During this time, the agency will collect additional data to get feedback on the time food manufacturers would need to reformulate products that currently contain artificial trans fats – should this determination be finalized.

Reducing trans fat intake could prevent thousands of heart attacks and deaths, the FDA says. In recent years, many food manufacturers and retailers have voluntarily decreased trans fat levels in many foods.

But they haven’t gone far enough, said Jonathan Fialkow, M.D., medical director of clinical cardiology at Baptist Cardiac & Vascular Institute and a certified lipidologist.

“We have made many advances in detecting and treating heart disease, but eliminating trans fats from foods altogether can help with vital risk factors, such as controlling LDL cholesterol levels and decreasing inflammation,” Dr. Fialkow said.

The FDA said in Thursday’s statement that consumption of the artificial trans fat has declined over the last two decades in the United States. But, FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., said that  consumption “remains a significant public health concern.”

Further reduction in the amount of trans fat in the diet of Americans could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year, Hamburg said.

The independent Institute of Medicine (IOM) has concluded that trans fat provides no known health benefit and that there is no safe level of consumption of artificial trans fat.

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