The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently ruled that artificial trans fat is not generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for use in human food. As a result of this, food manufacturers will have three years to remove all sources of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) from their products.
Partially hydrogenated oils are one of the major sources of trans fat. They are formed during a chemical process called hydrogenation. During hydrogenation, hydrogen is added to liquid oil in the presence of a catalyst, pressure, and heat. The liquid oil then turns solid which is helpful for extending the shelf-life of products and helping to keep flavors stable. Extending the shelf-life of products is one of the major reasons why food manufacturers add PHOs to their products.
You can tell if a food product contains partially hydrogenated oil simply by reading the ingredient list on the nutrition facts label. Look for terms such as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil” or “partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil.” If you find any of these terms on the ingredient list, then the food product contains some trans fat.
The nutrition facts label will also tell you the amount of trans fat per serving of a product. Since 2006, the FDA mandated that all foods had to include trans fat on the nutrition facts label. The trick with trans fat is that food manufacturers can claim that a product is “Trans fat-free” even if the product contains 0.5g of trans fat per serving. This often misleads people into believing that a food is free of trans fat, even though it still contains a small quantity. This is likely to change in the future, with the current ruling.
The FDA is raising concerns with trans fat in food products because scientific evidence shows its adverse effects with respect to heart disease. A number of human studies have shown that consumption of trans fat can increase LDL and total cholesterol, which can increase the risk for heart disease.
The implications of the FDA ruling on trans fat may be a challenge for food manufacturers. Manufacturers will have until 2018 to remove partially hydrogenated oils from their products. This means that food companies and even restaurants such as McDonald’s will have to stop formulating or cooking their products in trans fat. Food manufacturers who want to still use partially hydrogenated oils in their products will have to petition the FDA for a special permit.
Since trans fat is commonly found in foods such as French fries, pie crust, doughnuts, and other baked goods, consumers may notice a difference in taste since these fats impart good flavor. However, because the science tells us that trans fats are so detrimental to our health, the new FDA determination is trying to decrease the amount of trans fat we consume.