On June 16 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not generally recognized as safe for use in human food. As result, the FDA has given food manufacturers three years to remove them from their products.
Trans fats, which are commonly found in baked goods, coffee creamers, fried foods, frostings and icings, frozen pizza, microwave popcorn, shortening, stick margarine, and more, have long been considered the worst type of dietary fat a person can eat. They raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower your HDL (good) cholesterol, a combination that increases your risk of heart disease – the number one cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.
Requirements around trans fats are not new to the food industry. In 2006, manufacturers were required to list trans fat information on foods’ Nutrition Facts label. The FDA estimates this move caused about a 78 percent decrease in the amount of trans fat people ate between 2003 and 2012. However, despite the decrease, consumption of trans fat is still a major health concern today. Removing it from food completely is estimated to prevent as many as 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year, according to the FDA.
Trans fats come in two types: artificial and natural. The artificial type is what the FDA recently banned. The natural type will not be completely eliminated because small amounts are found in red meat, dairy products, and at very low levels in oils.
Since it won’t be until 2018 that trans fat is completely eliminated from food, it’ll be up to you to take a proactive approach to limit how much of it you eat. The single best thing you can do is read the ingredients list on a food’s package. If the word “hydrogenated” or “shortening” is listed, avoid it.
Reviewing the ingredients is important because companies are only required to list that a food has trans fat if it contains more than 0.5 grams per serving. In other words, if it has less than 0.5 grams per serving, the Nutrition Facts label can say it has zero grams of trans fat. Although the amount sounds small, consider how often you eat more than one serving of something.
The current recommendations are to limit trans fat to one percent of your daily calorie intake, which translates into 1.5 grams per day for most women, and 2 grams per day for men. Eating less is even better.
In addition to reading ingredient lists, the FDA offers these tips to reduce the amount of trans fat you eat:
When you go out to dinner, ask your server to check which type of oil will be used to cook your food. Additionally, many restaurants list nutrition information on their menu. Look for items that are lower in fat and also meet some of the above criteria. For example, meat that’s lean, sides low in fat and high in fiber, and dishes that are grilled or steamed.
If you’re interested, you can see examples of popular foods with trans fat on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Pinterest board: The Trans Fat Wall of Shame.