The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending a U.S. ban on synthetic trans fats because of the health threats they pose.
The recommendation comes after a study released by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found that nearly 1 in 10 processed food products sold in the U.S. contain trans fats, even though there’s a common perception that trans fats have been removed from most foods. The FDA is also considering making manufacturers removed partially hydrogenated oils from all foods if the agency passes the policy considering trans fat unsafe.
The elusiveness of the ingredient on packaging labels is part of the problem, with packaging not clearly indicating the presence of synthetic trans fats. The recent New York health study analyzed the nutritional data on more than 4,300 food products. “Researchers found that 391 of those products, or about 9 percent, listed partially hydrogenated oils – the main source of manufactured trans fat – in their ingredient information,” explains SF Gate. “But 330 of those products claimed to have zero grams of trans fat per serving on their nutritional label.”
“The sense is that trans fat is mostly gone from foods, and what we see is there’s still a lot being used in packaged foods,” Christine Curtis, assistant commissioner in the New York City health department and an author of the study told SF Gate. “We think consumers are unknowingly consuming artificial trans fat and the recommendation is to consume as little as possible.”
A federal law allows products containing less than 0.6 of a gram per serving of trans fat to be listed as having zero trans fats. But the problem lies in the “per serving” recommendation, particularly when it comes to snack or junk foods, where it’s likely that people will eat more than the serving size. “A fairly small bag of potato chips, for example, could have up to 0.5 of a gram of trans fat per serving, and if that bag contains three servings, a consumer could easily eat 1.5 grams of trans fat and not even know it,” explains SF Gate.
Trans fat is produced by adding hydrogen to oil to stabilize it so that it can be added to processed foods for greater stability and longer shelf life. It has been linked with raising cholesterol levels, heart disease and obesity.
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