Trans-fat end in sight, thanks to FDA

The Food and Drug Administration has announced a new plan to require food manufacturers to phase out the use of artificial trans-fats. Trans-fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, are the result of an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oils to make them more stable. Foods cooked with trans-fats tend to have a longer shelf-life, which makes the process very attractive for food manufacturers. Unfortunately, trans-fats have a long standing association with an increased risk of heart disease. The ban has been long fought for and follows on the success of individual states enacting similar bans. New York passed a ban on trans-fats in 2007 and California passed a ban in 2011.

Before the ban, which former Commissioner Margaret Hamburg helped to put in place, the FDA allowed companies to report trace amounts of trans-fats (less than 0.5 of a gram) as having no trans-fats at all. The ban now requires foods to be completely trans-fat free after 2018. The ban only applies to artificial trans-fats; that is, oils that have undergone the industrial treatment process to stabilize them. Some foods, such as beef and dairy, contain small amounts of naturally occurring trans-fats and are not impacted by the ban.

While the FDA has already issued warnings for consumers to limit intake of trans-fatty foods, the new ban provides motivation for food manufacturers to find alternative cooking methods. Some manufacturers have already taken measures to remove trans-fats from their products; Crisco reformulated their products in 2007 to eliminate trans-fats entirely. The FDA estimates that nearly 80 percent of U.S. foods have already made the move to eliminate trans-fats.

In the end, consumers come out ahead in the battle against trans-fats. The dangers of trans-fats were not well known until achieving widespread popularity. Misinformation about the dangers of trans-fats has made it difficult for consumers to make healthy eating choices. The FDA ban helps spread correct information about the health risks of trans-fats as well as eliminating it from widespread use in consumer food production.