This morning, I was thrilled to see that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made a preliminary recommendation to eliminate artificial trans fats from processed foods. This move would likely save thousands of American lives from heart disease, the number one killer of both men and women.
For decades, I have seen the negative impact these artery-clogging fats have had on my patients’ lives and I have spent countless hours trying to combat the damage they cause. Nearly all scientific research on trans fats has proven their dangers. Major health organizations, including the Institute of Medicine, have concluded that there is no safe amount of trans fats. This is why I have urged all my viewers and fans (as well as my friends and family) to rid their diets of trans fats.
Artificial trans fats, which are made by treating liquid oil with hydrogen gas to make it solidify, have long been used in frying and baking, as well as in products like margarine. Manufacturers often choose to use them because they are inexpensive and have a long shelf-life. Studies show, however, that they significantly raise bad cholesterol while simultaneously lowering good cholesterol, quickly blocking arteries and leading to disease. Some small amounts of trans fats also occur naturally in foods such as some meats and dairy products – these would not be affected by the FDA ban.
Fortunately, as awareness of the risks posed by these fats has grown over the years, many restaurants and companies have already eliminated them. Since 2006, the FDA has insisted that amounts over half a gram per serving be included on food labels. New York City banned restaurants from using them shortly beforehand, and many major chains, including McDonald’s, have replaced trans fats with alternatives.
Even the changes made thus far have had a huge impact. According to the FDA, trans fat intake has declined from about 4.6 grams a day in 2003 to about one gram a day in 2012. And the Centers for Disease Control has reported that blood levels of trans fatty acids in white Americans dropped 58% over a nine year period. Nevertheless, on average Americans still ingest 1.3 grams a day, and trans fats are still found in some frozen foods, baked goods, frostings, coffee creamers and microwavable popcorns, among others. Check the ingredient lists on your food for partially hydrogenated oils, the major source of dietary trans fats.
Eliminating trans fats nearly entirely has major implications for our nation’s health. FDA officials estimate that banning artificial trans fats could potentially prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths every year. The proposal has been put forward for public comment for the next 60 days, after which a final decision will be made. There is little doubt what the right answer is: Trans fats must go, and their departure will be a victory for us all.