In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took steps to ban partially hydrogenated oils from foods. The FDA determined that these oils are no longer “generally recognized as safe,” meaning they cannot be used as food additives without approval.
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What Are Partially Hydrogenated Oils?
Partially hydrogenated oils create trans fat, a form of unsaturated fat that does not naturally occur in foods.
In the 1950s research suggesting that saturated fat was a major driver of heart disease gained sway over the scientific community. As this idea took hold, low-fat products began popping up everywhere. Hydrogenating vegetable oil became a cheap way to ditch the saturated fat in foods like butter. However, they added trans fat.
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils exploded on the market in the 1980s when manufacturers realized they were a cheap way to increase the shelf life of processed foods.
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Why the Ban on Trans Fat?
The FDA is taking official measures that many organizations, and even states, have been advocating for years. The World Health Organization has called to eliminate trans fatty acids from foods, and New York banned partially hydrogenated oils in restaurants a few years ago.
The main reason is because we now know that trans fat significantly increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Current evidence now shows that saturated fat is not directly linked to heart disease.
How Can You Avoid Trans Fat Now?
The FDA requires that food manufacturers include the amount of trans fat on nutrition labels. However, if the product contains less than 0.5 grams per serving, the label can say 0 grams. The per serving specification is important. How often do we stop at just one handful of our favorite chips?
The ruling won’t take effect until 2018. If you want to start avoiding trans fat now, check the ingredient labels.
Margarine and vegetable shortening are the main sources of large amounts of trans fat. Opt for real butter instead – in moderation, of course. Next, look at ingredient listings for partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils. If they’re in there, the food has trans fat, no matter what the nutrition label says.
Eating out is trickier. Some restaurants use hydrogenated oils or margarine for frying or cooking. If you’re unsure, just ask.
This rule marks a big step forward for the FDA. The administration’s Acting Commissioner Stephen Ostroff, M.D., said removing partially hydrogenated oils “is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.”