The Food and Drug Administration’s announcement last week that food manufacturers must remove artificial trans fat from their products may mean fewer heart attacks and strokes and less obesity in years to come, experts said.
The FDA ruled artificial trans fat is not safe for use in human food and gave manufacturers three years to stop using partially hydrogenated oils, or PHOs, in food products.
What’s trans fat, and why is it bad for health?
PHOs are the main source of artificial trans fat used to extend shelf life. They enhance flavor in certain products such as baked goods, chips, deep-fried foods, donuts, microwave popcorn, refrigerated biscuits, margarine sticks and non-dairy coffee creamer.
Eating foods high in trans fat is linked to obesity, memory loss, heart attack, stroke, high levels of bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol, Marshfield Clinic dietitian Ashley Short said.
“It’s wonderful the FDA officially recognized artificial trans fat as not safe and is making this bold move,” she said.
Americans have consumed less trans fat since 2006 when the FDA started requiring food manufacturers to include trans fat content on nutrition labels. Some fast food restaurants already have stopped using artificial trans fat to fry food, but trans fat consumption still is a public health concern, according to the FDA.
Alternatives to trans fat
“There’s currently a debate on what food manufacturers are going to use as a substitute,” Short said.
One option is plant-based saturated fat like coconut and palm kernel oil. Studies have shown certain types of saturated fats are not as bad for health as once thought, but current dietary guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat intake because it increases bad cholesterol levels, she said. More info on cooking oils, here.
Another choice is unsaturated fat like canola and soybean oil, which McDonald’s uses to cook French fries. Unsaturated fats have been known to lower cholesterol when consumed in moderation.
The ban won’t eliminate trans fat from all food – meat and dairy contain small amounts of natural trans fat, which is believed to be less harmful than the artificial version. Still, foods with natural trans fat should be eaten in moderation.