Food Fight

FDA, Calling Them Detrimental to Human Health, Moves to Ban Trans Fats in Food

On November 7, the Food and Drug Adminstration proposed that partially hydrogenated oils no longer be "generally recognized as safe" -- a ruling that, if made final, would effectively mean companies could no longer use anything containing trans fats in their products.

I asked Houstonians what they thought about this ruling, and it turns out many people don't know exactly what trans fats are, and many are not even aware that they were consuming them.

Because I'm not a scientist, I turned to the American Heart Association to put the definition of trans fats into layman's terms. According to the organization's Web site, "Trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Companies like using trans fats in their foods because they're easy to use, inexpensive to produce and last a long time. Trans fats give foods a desirable taste and texture."

Basically, trans fats make food taste "better" and last longer for less money. But at what cost to our health?

Trans fats can raise the levels of LDL -- or "bad cholesterol" -- in your body and lower the amounts of HDL, or "good cholesterol." Research has also shown that trans fats can increase the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. All so that Twinkie will stay soft and ostensibly fresh for more than a few weeks.

Many manufacturers have already taken steps to reduce trans fats in their products in an effort to make food healthier and keep the artificial fats off of their labels after the FDA passed a law requiring better labeling in 2003. Fortunately, reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown a decrease in consumption of trans fats among Americans in the past six years.

Still, trans fats have not yet been eliminated completely. Until the FDA's new regulation is made law, companies are not required to list the amount of trans fat on food labels unless it's greater than half a gram per serving of a particular item. These trace amounts can add up quickly, and scientists say even small amounts can have an adverse effect on health.

It should be noted that trans fats do occur in small amounts in nature, but organizations like the FDA do not generally consider these to be dangerous.

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Kaitlin Steinberg