Taking on Trans Fats

Friday, January 31, 2014 11:59 AM

trans fatThe Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in 2013 that it plans to label partially hydrogenated oils (PHO’s), which are the primary dietary source of trans fats, as not generally recognized as safe for use in food. This relabeling of trans fats is just the first move in a process that will likely lead to a ban on trans fats in the U.S. food supply. 

Trans fat first entered the American food supply in 1911 in the form of Crisco shortening. Fairly early in its history, preliminary studies show that trans fats could be more harmful than other fats. Later studies confirmed this finding, indicating that trans fat contributed to heart disease.  While their presence has already been greatly reduced in the food supply, trans fats can still be found in many processed foods, like frozen pizzas, microwave popcorn, baked goods, margarine and store-bought icings. 

Philip Krause, MD, Director for the Section of Cardiology at NorthShore Skokie Hospital, explains why doctors have long urged their patients to stay away from trans fats:

  • Increases LDL cholesterol. High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, build up the walls of your arteries and can make them hard and narrow. Elevated LDL cholesterol levels are a significant risk factor for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Consumption of trans fats can raise the bad LDL cholesterol in the body.
  • Lowers HDL cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is your cholesterol friend. It’s responsible for cleaning up your bloodstream, picking up excess cholesterol from where it doesn’t belong and bringing it back to your liver.
  • Increases triglycerides. A type of fat found in blood, triglycerides are also partly responsible for the hardening of arteries. When combined with high LDL cholesterol, elevated triglycerides put you at high risk for stroke, heart attack, heart disease and even diabetes. 
  • Causes inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s response to injury. Trans fats can increase inflammation by damaging the lining of the blood vessels. Inflammation may also be a cause of fatty blockages in the heart’s blood vessels. 

Notably, manufacturers have made steps to reduce fat levels in many foods and products. Since 2006, after which food labels reported trans fat content, intake of this substance has dropped significantly.

It is hoped, after the FDA finalizes its preliminary determination, PHO’s would be considered as “food additives” and could only be used with prior authorization. The primary goal and hope is that with better consumer education and these changes in product and food manufacturing, Americans can look forward to much healthier life ahead.

 

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