The Food and Drug Administration announced a proposal today that would phase out the use of trans fats in all food products in the United States. Citing concerns that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) were a contributing factor to heart disease and death, the administration rolled out a 60 day public comment period whereby they will determine if PHOs are "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) or not and take action on the results.
During the comment period, the onus will be on companies that use PHOs to scientifically prove the safety of the product, a feat scientists would say is impossible. PHOs, which are commonly found in foods like margarine, creamers and microwave popcorn, are made by introducing hydrogen gas into liquid oil, rendering it more shelf-stable. The product grew in popularity due to its relative cheapness compared with regular animal fats, but evidence has shown that the substance can raise levels of LDL, so-called "bad" cholesterol, while simultaneously lowering levels of HDL, "good" cholesterol. That Pop Secret Butter popcorn might taste delicious, but it's doing a double whammy on your arteries.
Trans fats were banned in New York City in 2006; other states, local governments and national companies followed suit, leading to an overall decline in trans fat consumption on a national level. However, artificial trans fats labeling is currently only required if a serving size includes more than half a gram, meaning trace amounts of the gnarly substance are still lurking in your food. If passed, this new trans fat ban could prevent up to 7,000 heart disease-related deaths in the United States each year, according to the FDA.
The Mayor's office released the following statement praising the proposal:
Seven years ago we became the first city in the nation to prohibit restaurants from using trans fats. Since then, at least 15 states and localities have followed suit and banned trans fats - and more than ten fast food chains have eliminated trans fats entirely. Today, we’re greatly encouraged that the FDA proposed measures that would virtually eliminate the artery-clogging and unnecessary ingredient from our nation’s food supply.
Our prohibition on trans fats was one of many bold public health measures that faced fierce initial criticism, only to gain widespread acceptance and support. Smoke-free restaurants and bars are now the norm in much of the country and increasingly around the world. Calorie counts are now required at all restaurants chains in the United States. The groundbreaking public health policies we have adopted here in New York City have become a model for the nation for one reason: they've worked. Today, New Yorkers’ life expectancy is far higher than the national average, and we've achieved dramatic reductions in disease, including heart disease. The FDA deserves great credit for taking this step, which will help Americans live longer, healthier lives.