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New FDA proposal trying to eliminate trans fat

Houston, TX - 11/11/2013

Experts from Houston Methodist Hospital address the recent FDA proposal to eliminate trans fat from the food supply.

Manufacture of trans fatty acids no longer serves a purpose

 Artificial trans fatty acids are no longer needed in advanced technological societies, says metabolic disease expert Henry Pownall, Ph.D., a chemist who has been studying fatty acid and cholesterol metabolism for over four decades.

Trans fats are made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils. "The hydrogenation of oils increase their shelf life and makes them behave more like butter," Pownall says. "But we have much better storage conditions in the U.S. now, so this once-useful property is no longer needed. Also, a ban would be a relatively low burden on the companies that manufacture them." Pownall says that while some people consume too many trans fatty acids, the evidence is unclear about whether moderate consumption is OK. "No one should freak out about consuming low amounts of artificial trans fatty acids," he says. "They just aren't needed anymore."

A ban on artificial trans fatty acids wouldn't necessarily mean the chemicals will disappear from our diets. A small amount of natural trans fatty acids can be found in the tissues of cows, sheep, and goats.

 Trans fat like poison

 According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, reducing trans fat consumption by avoiding artificial trans fats could prevent 10,000-20,000 heart attacks and 3,000-7,000 coronary heart disease deaths each year in the United States.

“I completely agree with the FDA’s decision,” Dr. Joshua Septimus, an internist and clinical lipidologist with Houston Methodist Hospital said. “I applaud the government for making a tough choice and standing up for Americans’ health rather than the vested interests of the processed food industry. Previous labeling of partially hydrogenated oils as ‘presumed to be safe’ is simply false: we know they cause heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, this is no different from banning a poison from food. Individuals may not die right away from trans fats, but as our understanding of the compounds has expanded, so has our realization that they slowly poison our arteries.”

Donuts, ice cream, cookies- oh my

Artificial trans fats have been well documented to do only bad things in the body and are strongly linked to poor lipid levels and poor cardiovascular outcomes, says Kristen Van sickel, registered dietician.  

“In light of what we already know of trans fats and their clearly documented detrimental effects, I think the FDA’s ban would be a positive step towards changing the face of obesity,” she said.

Trans fatty acids have similar properties as saturated fats in that they both increase LDL “bad” cholesterol if consumed in excessive quantities. High LDL can be associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

“From a wellness perspective, there is no reason to have such an obviously unhealthy product available to our public,” she said. It will be very difficult for food manufacturers to make the claim that trans fats are GRAS- “Generally Recognized As Safe” and taking it out of our food supply would be a great step toward a healthier America.