FDA attempts to regulate trans fats

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Alexes Garcia makes cinnamon rolls fusing apple sauce instead of trans fats. The Food and Drug Administration is now finishing the job as they announce Nov. 7, 2013, that it will require the food industry to gradually phase out trans fats, saying they are a threat to the health of Americans.(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)
Alexes Garcia makes cinnamon rolls using apple sauce instead of trans fats. The Food and Drug Administration is now finishing the job as it announced Nov. 7, 2013, that it will require the food industry to gradually phase out trans fats, saying they are a threat to the health of Americans.(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)

The FDA will try to eliminate most trans fats in an attempt to put healthier options on the shelves. The FDA has stated its intent and is  currently in the public comment period, which precedes regulation changes.

The specific ingredients being targeted by the FDA are partially hydrogenated oils, which have trans fatty acids, according to Michael Dunn, a professor from the Dietetics and Food Science Department. A variety of foods are made with PHO including margarines, yellow-fat spreads, icings and many fried foods.

Should the FDA succeed in its attempt to eliminate these fats from foods, the changes would be significant.

“This change would dramatically reduce trans fat intake, which would be beneficial,” said Dunn, who got his PhD in food science from Cornell University. “At the same time, it would increase saturated fat intake, as the stability and textural benefits of trans acids would be accomplished using saturated fats.”

The major challenge associated with eliminating trans fats is keeping products from going rancid. These partially hydrogenated oils help to increase the shelf-life of foods, allowing them to last longer at the stores and at home in the cupboard.

“The increase in the tendency of food products to become rancid without use of PHOs will need to be dealt with by the manufacturers in other ways,” Dunn said. “Possibly antioxidants will need to be added, or the shelf-life of products will need to be reduced so that they don’t develop rancidity before the ‘best-by’ date.”

Trans fats are associated with negative heart health consequences, and FDA regulations could negate some of these negative consequences.

“The benefit to the consumer will hopefully be less heart disease,” said Michelle Lloyd, a professor in the Department of Dietetics and Food Science. “Challenges to removing trans fat include a shorter shelf-life and increased cost of food.”

According to the FDA, artificial trans fats are a major contributor to heart disease in the United States, and banning them could potentially prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease every year.

This move is something the FDA has been trying to accomplish for a while now and should not be contested by the food industry, according to Steele Frost, associate professor in the Department of Dietetics and Food Science.

“In years past they have tried to go down to lower levels because they know that it’s not good for you,” Frost said. “The food industry will agree with these regulations; they aren’t going to fight them because they know the benefits.”

Trans fats won’t be completely gone, as they are found naturally in our diet in small amounts, according to Frost. However, this new regulation could be a stride toward a healthier diet for many Americans.

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