The World Health Organization is urging countries to completely phase them out.

By Renee Cherry
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Photo: nycshooter / Getty Images

If trans fats are the villain, then the World Health Organization (WHO) is the superhero. The agency just announced a new initiative to eliminate all artificial trans fats from all food across the globe.

In case you need a refresher, trans fats fall squarely into the "bad fat" category. They occur naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy, but they are also created by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil to make it solid. This is then added to foods to increase shelf life or change taste or texture. It's these "man-made" trans fat that the WHO is coming for. Unlike "good" unsaturated fats, trans fats have been shown to up your LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower your HDL (good cholesterol). In short, they're no good.

Trans fats contribute to 500,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease every year, WHO estimates. So it developed this plan that countries can follow to REPLACE (REview dietary sources, Promote use of healthier fats, Legislate, Assess changes, Create awareness, and Enforce) artificial trans fats. The goal is for every country around the world to create legislation that stops manufacturers from using them altogether by 2023.

The plan will likely have a huge global impact, but the U.S. has already gotten a head start. You might remember trans fats becoming a hot topic in 2013 when the FDA ruled that it no longer considered partially hydrogenated oil (the main source of artificial trans fats in processed foods) to be GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe). And then, in 2015, it announced they would move forward with a plan to eliminate the ingredient from packaged foods by 2018. Since the FDA stepped in, the country has held its promise and manufacturers have gradually moved away from trans fats, says Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., owner of Jessica Cording Nutrition. "I do find there's some regional discrepancy, but in the U.S., we're using trans fats a lot less frequently," she says. "A lot of companies have reformulated their products so that they can create them without the trans fats." So if you're wondering if WHO's plan will mean the extinction of your favorite ready-to-eat foods, rest easy-those foods have likely already been altered and you probably didn't even notice.

And if you think WHO has no business messing with your cookies and popcorn, your body would beg to differ. The ongoing elimination of artificial trans fats is warranted, says Cording. "Honestly they're one of those fats that are just not doing anybody any favors, so I think it's really encouraging that the WHO is on it and is looking to get rid of them in our food supply."

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