FDA axes trans fats


Partially hydrogenated oils — the primary source of artificial trans fats in processed foods — are no longer “generally recognized as safe” for use in human food, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration decision announced June 16, 2015. Companies will have three years to remove these oils from their products. The ruling does not affect trans fats that naturally occur in dairy foods and meat from ruminant animals, which is not considered as much of a health concern.

The new ruling on industrial trans fats “was a long time coming, but is still very welcome because it means that consumers will no longer need to be concerned that this toxic substance may be hiding in their foods,” said Walter Willett, Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Researchers at the School have long advocated for the removal of artificial trans fats from the diet. Work by Willett and others has shown that consuming an excess of trans fats raises the risk of high blood lipid levels, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other illnesses. Harvard Chan School researchers estimate that eliminating industrial trans fats from the U.S. food supply could prevent up to 1 in 5 heart attacks and related deaths. That would mean a quarter of a million fewer heart attacks and related deaths each year in the United States alone.

Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology, called the ruling a “victory for public health” that will save lives in the U.S. and have a positive impact globally. “This represents an excellent example where evidence from nutritional research is translated into policies to improve public health.”

Efforts by Willett, Hu, and others helped lead to the 2006 FDA decision requiring nutrition labels to list trans fats. The change prompted many companies to switch to recipes without partially hydrogenated oils, but according to Willett, the amount of trans fats remaining in the food supply “is still likely to be causing several thousands of premature deaths every year.”

Willett added that while “elimination of trans fat is an important step forward, much additional effort is needed to improve the quality of the U.S. food supply, which far too high in refined starch, sugar, salt, and red meat, and far too low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”

Learn more

FDA orders elimination of trans fats within next three years (PBS Newshour)
Why it took the FDA nearly 40 years to ban trans fats (Vox)
Why some doctors used to tout trans fats (The Washington Post)
FDA to phase out trans fats from food (USA Today)

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