In June 2015, the US Government, via the FDA, announced a nationwide ban on trans fats.
The major source of trans fats in our food is partially hydrogenated oils and the FDA has declared them to be NOT generally recognized as safe (GRAS). They currently are used to extend shelf life and add texture to a very extensive range of foods from frozen pizza to snack crackers. The news that all food producers and manufacturers have to remove ALL trans fats over the next three years was wholeheartedly embraced by the medical and nutrition communities. But why?
There are many reasons you shouldn't eat trans fats, but perhaps none more so than the sad statistics of heart attacks that occur every year in the Western World. Trans fats raise levels of low-density lipoproteins, which is a nasty type of cholesterol that deposits itself in your arteries and begins to constrict them. This will eventually lead to higher blood pressure, which will lead to cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. Think of Glasgow's obsession with deep-fried Mars Bars and the high mortality rate among Glaswegians suffering from heart disease!
Scientists are still trying to work out the link between mood disorders and diet, but there is at least one study, conducted in Spain in 2011, that shows a diet high in trans fat can lead to depression. Using a sample of 12,059 over a six year period, Spanish researchers discovered that participants who consumed the highest amount of trans fats were 48% more likely to develop depression than those who didn't consume trans fats. And people whose diet was high in polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil, were far less likely to suffer from depression. Who says a diet can't bring you happiness?
A study conducted by researchers of the Oregon Health & Science University in 2012 revealed that people with a diet high in trans fats scored far lower on thinking and memory tests than those whose diet didn't contain a high percentage of trans fats. Studying the diets and health habits of 104 people with an average age of 87, researchers found a link between a high trans diet and faster brain shrinkage. Still fancy that slice of frozen pizza?
According to the World Health Organization, people whose diet consists of 2,000 calories per day should only consume two grams of trans fat. You may think you can avoid trans fats by studying product labels in your local supermarket - but that would be far too easy! Current FDA nutrition labeling guidelines permit food manufacturers to show their goods contain 0 grams of trans fats even if the product contains 0.5 grams per serving. The recent trans fat ban will mean that no artificial trans fats will be permitted in foods after 2018, but at present it is unclear what impact this will have to food labeling. Start learning more about nutrition and diet now and you can reduce trans fat intake with a bit of cunning.
Trans fats are lurking in every conceivable type of food, from crackers to coffee creamer. They lend taste and texture to many foods. Since labeling is less than helpful, how are consumers to avoid the stuff? Since trans fats are in so many things we consume, it's no wonder obesity is running rampant in the Western World. Taking away trans fats from the food manufacturing process won't be easy. It is likely manufacturers will try using blends of oils and unsaturated fats - for example, palm oil and soybean oil - but intensive farming of those natural ingredients are blamed for widespread deforestation of rain forests.
Although trans fats are generally man-made, there are a few natural food stuffs that contain trans fats, such as dairy, beef, lamb and pork. It will be impossible to enforce the ban on whole foods like these, so you'll still be exposed to some trans fats after 2018. It will be up to each of us to adjust diets accordingly. Already many people are advocating vegetarianism to help save the planet from "farting cow syndrome." Meat production is aiding the greenhouse effect that is destroying our ozone layer and heating up Earth's atmosphere. Cut out intensively farmed meat and you'll cut out a lot of trans fat - and help the planet at the same time.
If you like guzzling trans fat infused biscuits, donuts, frozen pizzas and such, you're probably worried that they won't taste the same after the ban comes into effect in 2018. You shouldn't be: Christine Curtis, a co-author and director of New York's Nutrition Strategy Program, said in an interview with CNN that the Program's 2012 study into NYC's restaurants banning trans fats ahead of the official 2018 ban showed the transition was "seamless" and "most New Yorkers didn't even notice." Just think of the above reasons why you shouldn't eat trans fats and you won't miss the stuff one bit!
The banning of trans fats can only be good news. Did you know you were eating this stuff?