Weakening Vital Signs for Trans Fats
Headquartered in Greene County
Tel: (417) 881-8909
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Partially hydrogenated fats, also known as trans fats or oils, may be eliminated in processed foods by steps being taken now by the Food and Drug Administration according to Dr. Pam Duitsman, a nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
The FDA has directed that these artificial trans fats be taken from the “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) list of approved food additives. As a result, these fats will not be able to be used in food products following a waiting period and finalization of the initiative.
FDA’s determination that artificial trans fats are not safe to use in foods came on Nov. 9, 2013, with a set comment period that has now been extended to March 8, 2014.
According to Duitsman, trans fats are strongly linked to the development of cardiovascular disease. They raise LDL, which most Americans know as “bad” cholesterol, and lower HDL, known as “good” cholesterol. Additional reports indicate that these fats contribute to obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes.
“Trans fats have also been shown to contribute to certain types of cancer, have adverse effects on cell membranes and the immune system, and promote inflammation and aging. Trans fat is considered the worst type of fat for health,” said Duitsman.
The institute of medicine has concluded that trans fat does not provide any known health benefit, and more importantly, there is no safe level of consumption for trans fat.
“Though we have known for some time that trans fats were harmful, they have continued to be pervasive in many processed foods. According to FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, eliminating trans fats could prevent an additional 2,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease each year,” said Duitsman.
Artificial trans fats have been used widely by food manufacturers to extend shelf life. As of Jan. 1, 2006, FDA has required that all packaged food, including dietary supplements, must list the amount of trans fat on the Nutrition facts label.
“There is a very important caveat. In the U.S., if a food has less than 500 mg per serving, the manufacturer can list the level of trans fat as zero. Of course, by eating multiple servings, a significant amount of trans fats can be consumed,” said Duitsman.
This means consumers have been forced to read the “fine print” of the ingredient list, to determine if any trans fats are present in their foods. If the list says “partially hydrogenated”, trans fats are present.
These harmful fats are often found in foods like: cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pie crusts, pizza dough, some breads, hard margarine, vegetable shortening, pre-mixed products (cake mix, pancake mix, chocolate drink mix), fried foods, and snack foods (potato, corn and tortilla chips; candy; packaged or microwave popcorn).
“Even if you are conscientious and read the fine print on every label, you can easily ingest a significant amount of trans fats without knowing it simply by eating out, eating a slice of birthday cake offered to you, or sampling a treat at office snack day,” said Duitsman. “This is why the FDA ruling is so important. From a nutrition perspective, these fats need to be eliminated from our foods completely.”
Duitsman recommends that until artificial trans fats are eliminated from the food supply, it is important to protect yourself by scrupulously reading nutrition and ingredient labels.
“In restaurants, avoid items that may be made from these fats, such as fried foods and baked goods, unless you know that the restaurant has eliminated trans fats in their recipes,” said Duitsman. “Better yet, choose to eat whole, natural, real food – which will never contain artificial trans fats. Include a variety of whole foods each day, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Low-fat dairy, lean meats and fish can also be healthy choices.”
For more information on nutrition contact one of the following nutrition specialists: Dr. Lydia Kaume in Barton County, (417) 682-3579; Dr. Pam Duitsman, in Greene County, (417) 881-8909; or Cammie Younger in Texas County, (417) 967-4545. Information is also available online http://extension.missouri.edu.