You can finally PHO-get about those FrankenFats! As of 2018, the FDA will make sure trans fat doesn't make its way into processed foods again
Two years ago, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced they were considering banishing trans fat from processed foods, we were thrilled but kept pretty quiet so as to not jinx it. Yesterday, though, the FDA announced they are officially moving forward with the plan to clean up the supermarket shelves. Partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary source of trans fat in processed foods, are officially no longer “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS. (Partially hydr-what? Mystery Food Additives and Ingredients from A to Z.)
“This determination is based on extensive research into the effects of PHOs, as well as input from all stakeholders received during the public comment period [between the consideration announcement and final ruling],” said Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. And that research is pretty convincing: Studies have shown consuming trans fat increases your risk of heart disease, raises bad cholesterol levels, lowers good cholesterol levels, and even, according to a brand new study, messes with your memory.
But what the heck is trans fat to start with? It’s a byproduct of PHOs and is created through a process that sends hydrogen through oil, causing the latter to change thickness, color, and even become a solid. This Frankenstein ingredient gives processed food a longer shelf life and affects the taste and texture.
Even though the FDA estimates that the percent of people eating trans fat decreased by roughly 78 percent between 2003 and 2012, this ruling will ensure the remaining 22 percent aren’t exposed to the toxic substance—especially important considering current nutrition labeling guidelines allow manufacturers to round anything less than 0.5g/serving down to zero, making it seem like low levels are nonexistent in your food. (Are You Falling for These 10 Food Label Lies?)
So what’s going to taste different on the supermarket shelf? The most affected foods will be boxed baked goods (like cookies, cakes, and frozen pies), refrigerated dough-based foods (like biscuits and cinnamon rolls), canned frosting, stick margarines, microwave popcorn, and even coffee creamers—basically, everything that tastes unbelievably delicious and has a crazy illogical expiration date.
Companies have three years to phase out all use of PHOs in their foods, which means you don’t have to worry about accidentally ingesting the stuff come 2018.