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Sick of trans fat in your food? Tell the FDA

Agency wants to hear whether the artery-clogger should be allowed in food

Published: November 07, 2013 06:00 PM

You know trans fats, the stuff margarine is made of and that fast food restaurants often drop their fries and doughnuts into? And that increases your risk of heart attack and stroke? Today the Food and Drug Administration announced an important step in getting the ingredient out of the food supply for good. And it’s given you 60 days to comment on whether you think that’s a good idea. We think you should take advantage of the opportunity.

Consumer Reports’ first raised the alarm about the dangers of trans fat in food in 1991. Now, more than 20 years later, the FDA has issued a preliminary determination that artificial trans fat, aka partially hydrogenated fats, are not “generally recognized as safe” for use in food. If the agency takes that step, food manufacturers will have to prove that the ingredient is safe, a step that will likely force them to remove the ingredient from foods.

Trans fat comes from vegetable oils that have additional hydrogen molecules attached to them. The original idea was to give the fat the stability and mouthfeel of butter, but without the cholesterol or saturated fat. As it turned out, trans fat was also less expensive than butter and extended the shelf life of packaged products. But it also turned out to be just as bad, if not worse, for your heart and your health as saturated fats are. Like saturated fat, trans fat raises levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, but it also lowers levels of HDL (good) cholesterol at the same time, so it’s a double whammy on your heart. And it might also cause inflammation, which could pose additional risks to your heart and throughout your body.

Food manufacturers were required to list trans fat on the nutrition facts label in 2006, and as a result many switched from partially hydrogenated oils to other fats in their products—up to a point. Even products that say Trans Fat Free or list 0 grams of trans fat on the label can legally contain 0.5 or fewer grams of trans fat. It may not sound like much, but if you ate several products that contained this level of trans fat, you could still be consuming much more than you think. The Institute of Medicine says that there is no known safe level of trans fat consumption.

The FDA opened a 60-day comment period, starting Friday, Nov. 8. Make your voice heard! Go to regulations.gov and encourage the FDA to follow through on this decision. Be sure to include the agency name, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and this docket number FDA-2013-N-1317.

—Trisha Calvo

   

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