Artificial trans fats are on their way out, but aren’t gone: Look for “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients lists of products like ready-to-use frostings, microwave popcorn, packaged cakes, frozen pizzas, margarines, refrigerator dough products, crackers, and coffee creamers. Thanks to a new ruling from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), by 2018, these products should be safer to eat as well.
“Partially hydrogenated oil” emerged in the 1950s. By bubbling hydrogen gas through oil, manufactures can turn liquid oils into Crisco or hard margarine, or whatever saturation or thickness they choose. The new technology made a flurry of new consumer packaged goods taste fresh longer, but as early as 1990, scientists linked these industrially created fats to greater risk of heart disease. Trans fats build up plaque in the arteries and can help trigger a heart attack.
In 2006, after years of research, the FDA required companies to list trans fat content on nutrition labels, and many companies eliminated them. McDonald’s found substitutes and so did Crisco. But there’s a catch: a nutrition label can say “Trans Fat” with a zero next to it, or not mention Trans Fat, if the product contains fewer than 0.5 grams per serving. People often eat much more than the serving size chosen by the manufacturer, and even small amounts of trans fats can add up. To avoid trans fat, you need to actually look at the ingredients, rather than the nutrition label.
Now the agency has taken the next step and ruled that unless a company wins a special exception, by 2018, it must eliminate all artificial trans fats from its products. (The fats will still occur naturally in meat and dairy products.) This change, the agency says, could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year, and save an estimated $140 billion over 20 years in healthcare costs.
Some of your favorite brands may have already made the switch. The FDA estimates that consumption of trans fats fell by 78 percent from 2003 to 2012, partly as the result of its 2006 ruling. New York City banned trans fats in foods sold by restaurants and bakeries in 2006, and California, Cleveland, and Philadelphia followed. Consumption of saturated fats in packaged baked goods increased, but saturated fats are less dangerous, said study author Barry M. Popkin, a nutrition epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Brands that currently contain artificial trans fat include Betty Crocker Super Moist Yellow Cake Mix, Nestle Coffeemate creamer, Pillsbury Cinnamon rolls, Girl Scouts Thin Mints, Sara Lee New York Style Classic Cheesecake, Nabisco Ritz Crackers and Saltine Crackers, and Tootsie Rolls, among others.
It makes sense that these products couldn’t stay exactly the same now that the Mad Men TV show is finally over. Without trans fats, donuts may become more oily, real butter may appear in movie theaters for popcorn, crackers will contain more soybean or canola oil, and finely ground nuts may thicken creamers. How sad is that?
July 22, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN