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FDA Trans Fat Ban

By Jodie Parus, RD, LD  Trans Fat Ban

January 1, 2006 marked the first effective day of the federal rule requiring trans fatty acids be declared in the nutrition label of conventional foods and dietary supplements. Since that time, trans fat intake among Americans has declined from 4.6 grams per day to about 1 gram per day. Nonetheless, current intake remains a significant public health concern.

On November 7, 2013 the FDA released a statement on their efforts to ban trans fats in processed foods. Their preliminary determination is that partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not "generally recognized as safe". As with the trans fat labeling rule, this could be a lengthy process, and this is just the beginning.

Up next is a 60 day period in which the FDA will be accepting comments on the preliminary determination in order to collect additional data and to gain input on the time that manufacturers will need to reformulate their products that contain trans fats. The time period for comments is November 8-January 7 and can be submitted electronically on or by mail.

You have most likely spotted the trans fat line on the nutrition label and "No trans fat" plastered on the front of boxes, but what are they and why do they need to be banned?

The process of hydrogenating oils changes their chemical structure and adds hydrogen atoms. The terms hydrogenated oil and trans fat are not synonymous. The trans fat that occurs most often in processed food is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is a type of unsaturated fat.  Complete hydrogenation on the other hand results in saturated fat. 

Partial hydrogenation is performed commercially in order to obtain a fat that is less prone to rancidity. Therefore product shelf life is increased and need for refrigeration decreased.

The ban on trans fatty acid is being proposed for two major reasons. First, trans fatty acids are not essential and provide no known benefit to human health. Second, and most importantly, trans fatty acids raise LDL or "bad" cholesterol and lower HDL or "good" cholesterol, thus increasing the risk of coronary heart disease. The Institute of Medicine has concluded that there is no safe level of consumption of artificial trans fat and recommend consumption be as low as possible. Finally, FDA commissioner Margaret A Hamburg, M.D. has stated, "Further reduction in the amount of trans fat in the American diet could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year - a critical step in the protection of Americans' health."

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