The FDA has released its final determination that partially hydrogenated oils are not generally recognized as Safe (GRAS.) Partially hydrogenated oils or PHOs are the primary dietary source of trans fats in processed foods. This announcement by the FDA will lead to an even higher reduction in trans fats in processed foods over the compliance period of 3 years. This will not completely remove trans fats from our foods due to the small amounts that occur naturally in meats and dairy products; but it is a huge step that is expected to reduce coronary heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States.
“We made this determination based on the available scientific evidence and the findings of expert panels,” says Susan Mayne, Ph.D., Director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Studies show that diet and nutrition play a key role in preventing chronic health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and today’s action goes hand in hand with other FDA initiatives to improve the health of Americans, including updating the Nutrition Facts label,” she adds. Consumers should still look at the ingredients label on foods to determine if they contain PHOs. In order for a food label to list 0 trans fats, the food must contain less than .5 grams per serving. Therefore, if partially hydrogenated oil is on the ingredients list, the food may still contain a small amount of trans fat. Even in small doses, this can add up and lead to a negative impact if not managed properly.
From the FDA, here is a list of possible foods that may contain trans fats:
- Coffee creamer
- Crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies, and other baked goods
- Fast food
- Frozen pizza
- Ready-to-use frostings
- Refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls)
- Snack foods (such as microwave popcorn)
- Vegetable shortenings and stick margarines
Many companies have taken a preemptive approach to reducing trans fats among their food offerings resulting in healthier foods being produced. Companies such as Campbell’s Soup, Nabisco, Nestle, General Mills, and Tyson Foods; have all taken steps to reduce trans fats and have already made great strides in reducing PHOs. The Grocery Manufacturers Association stated, “since 2005, food manufacturers have voluntarily lowered the amounts of trans fats in their food products by over 73 percent, consumers can be confident that their food is safe, and we look forward to working with the FDA to better understand their concerns and how our industry can better serve consumers.”
Over a century ago the German chemist Wilhelm Normann discovered the process of creating PHOs. During WWII it was thought to be a healthier substitute to saturated fats and allowed for a longer shelf life for many processed foods. Now 104 years later, the ban by the FDA will remove most trans fats from our diets. Science has found that PHOs have virtually no nutritional value and for every 2% of energy gained from trans fats, risk of heart disease increases by 23%; according to a study from the New England Journal of Medicine. This determination by the FDA is a highlight of how science and regulation can improve our health and livelihoods by protecting us from harmful ingredients and or processes. Although it will be three years before the full effects will be in place, companies have made a great start in keeping their consumers healthier.