Updated: 22 Jan 2017, Marc Woodard
In order to understand how unhealthy Trans Fats are it is necessary to first define and relate to them and how this unhealthy fat got into our food in the first place. And why the FDA now says it’s not fit for human consumption.
Hydrogenated Trans fats were invented in the 1890s. What took the FDA so long to put a ban on the hydrogenation of vegetable oils? And even with a ban does this keep Trans Fats out of our diet?
Much of the hydrogenated Trans Fat longevity story has to do with manufacturer product cost, hyper palatable fats that addict consumers to repeat purchases; then generates huge profits for the food processing companies. These things explain the longevity of manmade Trans Fats in the marketplace. The FDA ban on the other hand is connected to studies on human health and related disease empirical data.
“Although saturated fat is the main dietary culprit that raises LDL (Low Density LipoProtein), added Trans Fat and dietary cholesterol also contribute significantly to increased LDL’s [which represent unhealthy blood chemistry and related cause to cardiovascular disease]. Trans fat can often be found in processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils such as vegetable shortenings, some margarines (especially margarines that are harder), crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, and baked goods (FDA 2017).”
In the past consumers sought low cost, tasty and convenient processed foods and praised the hydrogenation process because of cost and exceptional flavor. But now the FDA agrees with consumer safety advocates to ban this unhealthy food process over the next couple of years.
To learn why the FDA is now taking action it is necessary to define Trans Fats, hydrogenation, poly hydrogenated oil and relate these things to disease.
Adding more hydrogen to oil is simply the process of man infusing more hydrogen atoms (hydrogenation) to a vegetable oil(s) mono-poly unsaturated fatty carbon molecule chain. The vegetable oil than becomes a “Partially” or fully hydrogenated (fat saturated) “Trans Fat.” i.e., Listed on food labels as Partial hydrogenated and/or Trans Fats are the same thing of varying atomic degree.
But not obvious to most consumers… through hydrogenation the oil becomes a more solid Trans hard fat that’s very unhealthy for us. That is vegetable oils are artificially hardened to achieve “firm” convenience soft spreads with long shelf life e.g., margarine, cooking oils and shortening.
To identify Trans Fats in food products, manufacturers list these values on ingredient labels. Note the words Partially Hydrogenated soybean Oil (PHO) on margarine and butter labels below. This is code for Trans Fats. You can find PHO listed as an ingredient in many snack, dessert foods, vegetable oils and even health supplemental products, etc. And when you see 0g Trans Fats on the label, food manufacturers are allowed up to .5grams Trans Fats per serving and can list this value as zero while simultaneously displaying PHO.
The good news for consumers as previously stated, the FDA now requires food manufactures to follow more stringent Trans Fat label laws. For instance if a food product has .5g Trans Fats or more, that value has to be listed on the label (FDA 2017).
This means all Trans Fats in foods must be identified. Even if the words Trans Fat and 0g are listed the food potentially has up to .499g per serving in it when PHO is listed. Many don’t know Trans Fats are also in organic wholefoods. Ever wonder how they get into animal and vegetable products?
Live stock graze on vegetation which contain a certain amount of poly unsaturated oil in them. Through animal grazing PHO’s (Poly Unsaturated Oil) are digested and some of this oil is stored in saturated fat cells. Hence all products have varying amounts of naturally stored PHO or Trans Fats in them. Just like humans.
Unlike organic dietary fats, hydrogenated Trans fats are not essential to the diet and significantly increase health risk when consuming too many of them.
I know conscientious consumers remove animal fat before eating a steak, or ladle the fat from broth to reduce fat intake calories. This is easy to do because it is easily seen. However Tran’s fats blend into processed baked and convenience foods and can’t be seen or removed. This is why it’s important to understand where Trans Fats come from and how to identify them in the foods eaten daily. This knowledge becomes even more important if you now suffer from obesity, diabetes or heart disease.
Over consumption of fatty foods in general is bad. But far worse when too many deceptive Trans-fats are mixed into baked goods.
In the past hydrogenation of cooking oils was used excessively by food industries until it was determined Tran’s fats were worse for you than natural occurring organic fats. Early 2006, companies began removing the Trans fat hydrogenation processes from foods and labeling “0” amounts of Trans Fats as required by the FDA. But as you now know “0” does not mean “0 Trans Fats and there a connection to organic food PHO chemistry.
In 2015 the “U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalized its determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS for use in human food. Food manufacturers will have three years to remove PHOs from products (FDA 2015).”
Even through the FDA recently determined Trans Fats are not safe for humans the end to manmade Trans Fats won’t end until 2017-18… this will not ban all Trans Fats from all foods because of the natural occurring PHO found in livestock and plants. But food manufacturers will be required to continue listing Trans Fats, mono-poly and saturated fat values.
Is this a win for everyone? I guess it depends on individual and company perspective.
For the health conscious consumer and those suffering from obesity, diabetes and other related illness and disease these changes could be of great dietary health benefit. For those on fixed and low incomes it may cost more and limit choice of healthy foods in the marketplace. For a manufacturer it may increase the cost of doing business. But this increase in cost is usually passed onto the consumer.
There will be winners and losers no matter how you look at this thing.
I personally believe with the ever increasing cost of health care and rise of childhood obesity cases the FDA ban was long overdue and necessary. I also believe through competitive food pricing… quality of food choice and cost will be affordable for low and fixed income families sooner than later.
I think the public-private sector’s have a regulatory responsibility to level out any inequitable consumer issues that maybe problematic for low and fixed income families. I believe this will happen and is the right thing to do with this type of Federal mandate and food industry change.
US Department of Health and Human Resources. FDA Food and Drug Administration (FDA 2015-2017).
Author: Marc T. Woodard, MBA, BS Exercise Science, USA Medical Services Officer, CPT, RET. 2017 Copyright. All rights reserved, Mirror Athlete Publishing @: www.mirrorathlete.com, Sign up for your Free eNewsletter.