In a somewhat surprising move on Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed measures that would virtually banish trans fats from processed foods, saying it could save 7,000 lives each year. [Tweet this news!]
The proposal would declare that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOS) are no longer "generally recognized as safe," or GRAS, a status that allows certain substances, such as salt, caffeine, and aspartame, to flow through the food supply legally. This would mean PHOS, the most common form of artificial trans fats, would be considered food additives and would have to be proved safe in order to be used in food products. Currently trans fats are common in a wide range of processed foods, including frozen pizzas, frosting, coffee creamer, and refrigerated dough.
While Americans' consumption of trans fats has decreased from about 4.6 grams a day in 2003 to 1 gram a day in 2012, current intakes are still a major cause for concern, FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a statement. So from a medical standpoint, this change couldn't come soon enough.
"This is a huge step forward," says Dennis Finkielstein, M.D., director of ambulatory cardiology at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "The medical community has recognized for three decades the negative side effects of trans fats. This isn't the final step, but it's a big move in the continuing process to educate consumers."
In addition to raising your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowering your HDL (good) cholesterol, trans fat can actually alter the configuration of your LDL to make it more plaque-forming, according to Finkielstein. "This increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, and death," he says.
As more research is done on food additives, many manufacturers have begun changing their practices. While there's a chance that some companies may simply replace trans fats with a similar, cheaper artificial additive, many companies have moved away from using trans fats anyway, Finkielstein says. "In general, many have been moving to more omega-3-rich sources like monounsaturated fats. Even companies including McDonald's have been moving away from them."
Still this is a good reminder to read labels, he adds. "Even if the FDA wasn't doing anything, you should be a good label reader. The cheaper option isn't always better."
In the meantime, you may want to run out and enjoy a frozen pizza or French fries while you can, because as they are, they may soon be a thing of the past.