Microwave popcorn and margarine are foods that will soon need a nutritional makeover. On November 7, The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that artificial trans fats are unsafe for consumers and that they will be banned. Once the ban is enacted, food manufacturers must ask the FDA for approval to use trans fats in their foods.
While small amounts of naturally-occurring trans fats are present in animal fat, most trans fats are made in manufacturing plants through a process called hydrogenation. In this process, hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oils to form solid fats, which are more harmful than liquid vegetable oils. Also known as partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats are popular among food companies because trans fats are inexpensive, have long shelf lives and add flavor and texture to foods.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), trans fats became popular in the 1980’s when consumer advocacy groups campaigned against the use of saturated fats because many believed that trans fats were healthier than saturated fats. However, in the 1990’s, researchers discovered that trans fats increase bad cholesterol levels and may increase the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Since then, people have been calling for restaurants and corporations to stop using trans fats in foods. Trans fats increase the risk of heart disease and stroke because they raise bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower good (HDL) cholesterol levels. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in 2010 that trans fats are responsible for around 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease a year. Even worse, trans fats have no nutritional benefits.
Many Americans have applauded the FDA for finally taking a stance on trans fats. Gunvant Chaudhari (Jr.), president of the UHS American Heart Association chapter, said, “Trans fats are artificial, so there is no reason to have them. Obesity is a big problem in the U.S., so Americans need to be exposed to and eat healthier foods.”
Although some claim that the trans fats ban restricts their freedom of food choice, many people do not realize that food corporations have already been searching for alternatives to trans fats so that consumers can enjoy healthier versions of the same foods. After BanTransFats.com, Inc. successfully sued Kraft in 2003 to eliminate trans fats in Oreos, Kraft removed trans fats completely in Oreo cookies, Jell-O pudding and Easy Mac and succeeded in maintaining the same tastes in the new foods (The Food Navigator). A February 2006 article by Judith Weinraub in the Washington Post reported that the Oreos with and without trans fats had “virtually no difference between them.” In fact, both Oreos had the same number of calories and grams of fat. The only difference was the presence of trans fats.
Other restaurants have followed Kraft and reduced or stopped adding trans fats to their foods. In 2008, McDonald’s removed all trans fats from its foods, including french fries and hash browns, and instead has used Canola oil (McDonalds.com). Entire cities which have placed trans fats bans, such as New York City and Philadelphia, have been successful in pushing national fast-food chains to stop adding trans fats to foods nationwide (Washington Post).
Although the trans fats ban will give Americans healthier foods to choose from, the national ban is not enough to teach Americans how to make healthy decisions. Ms. Therese Sorey (Eng. Dept.) said, “People need to understand how to read nutrition labels and understand all of the ingredients before determining whether they should eat a particular food.” In addition to banning trans fats, the FDA should advocate for more educational and informative public health programs for Americans, especially the young.
Written by ANDREW HONG