On June 16, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered food manufacturers to phase out artificial trans fats from their products by June 2018 by finalizing a ruling that removes trans fats from the list of food additives that are “generally regarded as safe.” Trans fats, listed on food labels as “partially hydrogenated oils,” are vegetable oils that undergo a chemical alteration process to make them semi-solid at room temperature. Food manufacturers like them because they’re a cheap way to prolong the shelf life of packaged foods; your body, on the other hand, isn’t so fond of trans fats, as they raise cholesterol levels more than any other type of fat you consume. Due to mounting evidence about the negative health consequences associated with their consumption (unlike other types of fat, the government recommends you consume absolutely no trans fat – that’s 0.0 grams/day), manufacturers have slowly been phasing out trans fats from their products over the past few years. Whereas partially hydrogenated oils were once found in large quantities in margarine, baked goods, and other packaged treats, they have now been replaced with other types of oils or appear in significantly lower amounts However, this doesn’t always mean that the reformulated product is healthier, as high-in-saturated-fat palm oil is often used as a substitute for partially hydrogenated oils, and trans fat, even when present in very small amounts, can still be detrimental to one’s health.
While the slow decline of trans fats was a small step in the right direction, the FDA’s ruling will all but ensure that the foods we eat will be completely free of these heart-unhealthy fats in a few short years. Manufacturers have the right to ask for an exception to the ruling if they can prove that there is “reasonable certainty of no harm” from the trans fats used in their products, but it’s highly unlikely that many, if any, manufacturers will have their requests approved. Until manufacturers are required to produce completely trans fat-free products, you will need to be proactive in phasing out trans fats on your own by reading ingredients lists carefully to make sure they don’t contain the words “partially hydrogenated oil.” But three years from now, you won’t need to be a food detective when it comes to rooting out trans fats, as they – and the increased risk of high cholesterol and heart disease that comes with their consumption – will be ancient history.