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FDA: Trans fats cause Heart Disease

The U.S. FDA made a long overdue observation last week that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary processed food source of artificial trans fat, are not “generally recognized as safe.” The FDA web site says that this “preliminary determination is based on available scientific evidence and the findings of expert scientific panels.” See the full FDA News Release.

It’s too late for the hundreds of thousands of people who have died of heart disease from trans fat consumption over the last 100 years or so (trans fats are as old as the FDA), but at least the FDA is doing something worthwhile now. Comments to the FDA are welcomed for 60 days on what it calls its “preliminary determination” to collect more data and knowledge on the time that may be needed for food processors to reformulate products that now contain artificial trans fat.

FDA Commissioner Margret A. Hamburg said, “While consumption of potentially harmful artificial trans fat has declined over the last two decades in the United States, current intake remains a significant public health concern. The FDA’s action today is an important step toward protecting more Americans from the potential dangers of trans fat. Further reduction in the amount of trans fat in the American diet could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year – a critical step in the protection of Americans’ health.”

Trans fat raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – or “bad” cholesterol – increasing the risk of coronary heart disease. The independent Institute of Medicine (IOM) has concluded that artificial trans fat offers no health benefit and no safe level of consumption.

The FDA applauds industry on its web site for having voluntarily cut down on trans fat use in the last few years. Many food processors and retailers have recently decreased trans fat levels in many foods and products, though trans fat can still be found in many processed foods – in desserts, microwave popcorn products, frozen pizzas, margarines and coffee creamers. While the agency applauds the processed food industry, it’s worth noting that the industry knew decades ago that trans fats were lethal for humans. Part of the problem has been the multi-million-dollar food industry blitzkieg against food labeling. Trans fat content information did not begin appearing in the Nutrition Facts label of foods until 2006, though the FDA reports that trans fat intake among American consumers has declined from nearly five grams per day ten years ago to about 1 gram per day now.

If the FDA finalizes its preliminary determination following a review of submitted comments, PHOs would be considered “food additives” and could not be used in food unless authorized by regulation. If such a determination were made, the agency would provide adequate time for producers to “reformulate products in order to minimize market disruption.” One would really hate to see people disrupted from killing themselves from heart disease by eating trans fats.

Trans fat does occur naturally in small amounts in some meats and dairy, but the FDA’s preliminary determination is only with regard to PHOs .

For more information about trans fat and information the FDA is seeking, see this docket in the next 60 days.

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