Trans Fats: What the News Means

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Photo by: fotoedu

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Everyone is talking about the FDA's call for the complete removal of artificial trans fats from the food supply. What does this mean for the future of your diet?
Trans Fats Refresher Course

Most folks know trans fats aren't good for them but many don't know what they are, why they're bad or what foods contain them.

Partially hydrogenated oils are vegetable oils that have been manipulated to be solid at room temperature. Once thought to be a healthier alternative to artery-clogging saturated fats, they're most often found in stick margarine, coffee creamer, refrigerated pastry dough, fried foods, snack foods, baked goods, frozen pizza and other processed foods to enhance texture, flavor and shelf life.

Over the last 20 years research has concluded that these trans fats are actually worse for the cardiovascular system than the demonized saturated kind. They increase "bad" LDL cholesterol levels, while decreasing "good" HDL cholesterol. To make matters worse, most of the foods that contain trans fats have little redeeming value to offer in the nutrient department. According to the FDA, removal of trans fats will prevent 20,000 heart attacks annually.

In January 2006, the FDA began requiring that all food manufacturers list trans fats on food labels. This led to a decrease in the amount some companies were using but looks were sometimes deceiving. If a food contains 0.5 grams or less per serving, the label can read 0 grams, so unless consumers check ingredient lists for hydrogenated oils they may be eating trans fats unknowingly.

Buyers (Still) Beware

For the time being, there are plenty of foods with trans fats out there so consumers should pay close attention to labels. Even if we do see artificial trans fats banished from this world, consumers still need to be mindful of the other dietary risks to cardiovascular health like saturated fat and cholesterol. If and when food manufacturers reformulate their products to remove trans fats, they often replace the hydrogenated oils with things like coconut oil and palm oil that are high in saturated fat.

What Happens Now?

This FDA action is still in the early stages. Only time will tell how well this will be received and how long before food companies take action. In the meantime, it might alert more consumers to pay attention to the trans fats currently in their diet.

Tell Us: What do you think about the proposed ban of trans fats?

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »

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