The deadline is here for the food industry to remove trans fats from processed foods. In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave food companies three years to stop using partially hydrogenated oils, the main source of artificial trans fat in processed foods. Time is nearly up, as the end date is this June.
It's not just a U.S. issue; The World Health Organization wants to eliminate artificial trans fats from the global food supply. In mid-May, the group launched a six-step program called REPLACE to help guide countries on removing these trans fats, ideally leading to worldwide eradication by 2023.
The FDA says that removing trans fats could potentially prevent 20,000 heart attacks a year and 7,000 deaths in the U.S. The WHO estimates that trans fats lead to more than 500,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease each year.
Trans fats in foods have been on the decline for the past decade because the science shows they aren’t the healthier version of animal fats they were once believed to be. In fact, trans fats, in the form of partially hydrogenated oils, raise the level of bad cholesterol while lowering the level of good cholesterol.
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In 2006, when the FDA required trans fats to be labeled separately on nutrition labels, food companies started to cut them out of products. Many labels read “0 g of trans fats,” but the FDA currently allows manufacturers to round down and claim a product contains no trans fats if it contains less than .5 grams of trans fats. The source of the trans fat may be listed in the ingredients list, but the nutrition listing can say zero.
Now, it seems foods will truly be trans fat-free, unless companies that petition the FDA to be able to use it under certain circumstances are given the permission to do so.
Does this mean all foods will have healthy fats now?
We hear so much about healthy fats now that it might be tempting to think that with the artificial trans fats gone, all the fat in foods with be healthy. That’s not the case, though. There will still be some naturally occurring trans fats in foods from meat and dairy products as well as “those produced in very low levels in some edible oils during the manufacturing process,” according to the New York Times.
Many foods will also contain saturated fats. The amount of saturated fats in foods like baked goods has gone up since trans fats have been removed. Saturated fats, like those found in butter, eggs and cheese, were once considered unhealthy. The science is beginning to show that saturated fat may not be as evil as it was once thought, and it can be consumed within moderation. It may even add some health benefits. But, there is no consensus yet as to the amount of saturated fat that should be consumed safely daily.
Editor's note: This file was written in June 2015 and has been updated with new information.