By Leah Zerbe & Emily Main
Better late than never, as the saying goes: Twenty years after scientific studies began revealing the damage that trans fats are doing to America's collective cardiovascular health, the Food and Drug Administration has announced that they finally intend to ban the man-made fats.
The agency has proposed a rule that would remove the "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) designation for partially hydrogenated oils, the source of trans fats. Doing so would mean that any food company that wants to use partially hydrogenated oils would require FDA approval to do so. And the FDA has said, essentially, that will never happen.
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While the FDA has removed the GRAS designation from a number of lesser known ingredients and those that pose an acute health threat, this is the first time the agency has done so with an ingredient used on such a massive scale, says Benico Barzilai, MD, section head of clinical cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic. "I actually think the FDA was getting frustrated that they had really come down hard on trans fats, but they are still being used quite a bit in the food industry," he says. "I think they saw that the only way to reduce their use is an outright ban."
That was never made more clear than last May, when a study from Harvard and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) researchers found that many popular foods still harbor the potent heart disease-promoting fat. The findings, published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Preventing Chronic Disease journal, also showed that the food industry's efforts to remove trans fats have taken a nosedive. Trans fat reduction dropped from 30 percent between 2007 and 2008, just after the FDA required trans fats to be labeled, to just 3 percent between 2010 and 2011.
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"The big concern about trans fat is it causes heart disease," explains Michael Jacobson, PhD, cofounder and executive director of CSPI. "It has been causing thousands and thousands of heart attack deaths every year for decades. That can stop."
By law, foods containing more than 0.5 gram of trans fats must list "trans fat" on the label, identifying levels per serving. There's a loophole, though. If the amount is under 0.5 gram, the nutrition label is allowed to say 0 percent trans fat. The workaround? Check the ingredients list. Anything listed as "partially hydrogenated" should serve as a trans fat tip-off. Organic standards ban trans fat, so that's another easy way to avoid this garbage ingredient.
Meanwhile, lots of processed and fast foods still contain trans fat. Here are some of the worst offenders, according to CSPI.
The Trans Fat Hall of Shame
Trans Fat Culprit: Pop Secret Kettle Corn, 5 grams per serving
Better Alternative: Quinn Popcorn (or just make your own--here's how).
Trans Fat Culprit: Pop Secret Premium Butter Popcorn, 5 grams per serving
Better Alternative: Skinny Pop
Trans Fat Culprit: UTZ Cheese Flavored Hulless Puff'n Corn, 3.5 grams per serving
Better Alternative: Michael Season's Cheddar Cheese Puffs
Trans Fat Culprit: Jolly Time Blast O Butter Popcorn, 4 grams per serving
Better Alternative: Eden Organic Popcorn
Trans Fat Culprit: Pillsbury Big Deluxe Chocolate Chips Cookie Dough, 2 grams per serving
Better Alternative: Wholly Wholesome Cookie Dough
Trans Fat Culprit: Pillsbury Grands! Buttermilk Biscuits, 3.5 grams per serving
Better Alternative: Immaculate Baking Buttermilk Biscuits
Trans Fat Culprit: Long John Silver's Breaded Clam Strips, 7 grams per serving
Better Alternative: Master Chef Season 3 Winner's Homemade Clam Chowder recipe
Trans Fat Culprit: Sara Lee Key West Lime Pie, 2 grams per serving
Better Alternative: Use trans fat-free graham crackers to whip up this Cool Lime Pie Frappe
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