FRIDAY, Nov. 8 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration's proposal to ban trans fats from the food supply
will trigger some scrambling by manufacturers and restaurant
chains, but ultimately it will be a boon to the nation's health,
In fact, food manufacturers had been pivoting away from trans
fats before the FDA announced its proposal Thursday, searching for
"The lion's share of the added trans fats have been removed from our food supply. But this is a good step toward eliminating the remaining amount that continues to pose heart disease risk for many people," said Kim Larson, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.
Even so, the FDA estimates that totally eliminating trans fats
could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths due to heart
disease each year.
Food makers first adopted partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
-- the source of trans fats -- as a substitute for butter, due to
health concerns over the saturated fats contained in butter,
explained Cleveland Clinic dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick.
Using trans fats to make a cracker gives it flakiness and "adds
a buttery taste without putting butter in it," Kirkpatrick said.
Trans fats also can be used to add a creamy taste, she said, noting
that non-dairy creamers are loaded with the artificial fats.
Other foods that contain trans fats include margarine, prepared
desserts, canned cake frosting, microwave popcorn, frozen pizzas
and boxed cookies, nutritionists noted.
But the food industry has progressed to the point where trans
fats can be replaced with healthier options, with no effect on
food's taste or texture, Kirkpatrick said.
"I think this is an opportunity to look at some of those healthier oils, like canola oil or other vegetable oils, and how they can be incorporated into foods that traditionally used trans fats," Kirkpatrick said. "I think we can do that without affecting taste."
Trans fats are created in an industrial process that adds
hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils. These partially hydrogenated
vegetable oils are solid at room temperature.
Trans fats became popular because of their versatility in food
production. They make processed foods "shelf-stable," able to stay
on supermarket shelves for months without going bad. Fast food
restaurants loved trans fats because they could be used repeatedly
in commercial deep fryers without having to be replaced, according
to the American Heart Association.
But, trans fats gained a notorious reputation because they
literally do everything wrong in the human body when it comes to
Trans fats simultaneously increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels
and lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels, nutritionists
They also cause inflammation, said Penny Kris-Etherton, a
registered dietitian and professor of nutrition at Penn State
University. "Inflammation is not only a root cause of heart
disease, but other chronic diseases as well," she said.
Trans fats, which are man-made, shouldn't be confused saturated
fats or unsaturated fats.
Saturated fats are considered "bad" fats because they increase
your "bad" cholesterol levels, which can cause artery-blocking
plaques. Unsaturated fats are considered "good" fats because they
increase your levels of "good" cholesterol, a type of cholesterol
that actually helps carry away the "bad" cholesterol and prevent
The use of trans fats has decreased as public knowledge of their
health risks increased. New York City banned trans fats in
restaurants in 2006. And studies have found that fast-food chains
like McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's have significantly
decreased the amount of trans fats used in their french fries.
Food manufacturers also have been limiting the use of trans
fats, most notably since the FDA required in 2006 that trans fats
be listed on the Nutrition Facts labels placed on nearly all food
"As a result of that decision, we have greatly reduced trans fats in the food supply," said Kris-Etherton. "Consumers have become more health- conscious and that has not worked well for the trans fats industry."
The move away from trans fats already has been reflected in the
diet of the average American. Trans fat intake has declined per
person from 4.6 grams per day in 2006 to about one gram a day in
2012. Levels of trans fatty acids in the blood of white adults in
the United States declined 58 percent between 2000 and 2009,
according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
There are some concerns moving forward, mostly related to what
food manufacturers will use as a substitute for trans fats.
"What I wouldn't want the food industry to do is go back to butter, because saturated fats have health risks as well," Kirkpatrick said.
People also shouldn't assume that a trans fat-free food
automatically will be good for them.
"If you remove the trans fats from a cookie loaded with sugar, you still have a cookie loaded with sugar," Kirkpatrick said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more
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