WASHINGTON (AP) – The Obama administration is cracking down on artificial trans fats, calling them a threat to Americans’ public health.
The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that it will require food companies to phase out the use artificial trans fats almost entirely. Consumers aren’t likely to notice much of a difference in their favorite foods, but the administration says the move will to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.
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Trans fats are widely considered the worst kind for a person’s heart, even worse than saturated fats, which also can contribute to heart disease. Over the years, they have been used in foods like frostings, which need solid fat for texture, or in those that need a longer shelf life or flavor enhancement. Popular foods that have historically contained trans fats are pie crusts, biscuits, microwave popcorn, coffee creamers, frozen pizza, refrigerated dough, vegetable shortenings and stick margarines.
Scientists say there are no health benefits to trans fats, which are used in processing food and in restaurants, usually to improve texture, shelf life or flavor. They can raise levels of “bad” cholesterol and lower “good” cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. The fats are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid, which is why they are often called partially hydrogenated oils.
Once a staple of the American diet – think shortening and microwave popcorn – most artificial trans fats are already gone. The FDA says that between 2003 and 2012, consumer trans fat consumption decreased an estimated 78 percent as food companies have used other kinds of oils to replace them.