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FDA Targets Trans Fat in Processed Foods

Heart risks may lead to total ban (November 7)

Many processed foods are made with partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the major dietary source of trans fat in processed food. Trans fat has been linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that a further reduction of trans fat in the food supply could prevent an additional 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year and up to 20,000 heart attacks each year.

In view of the risks associated with consuming PHOs, the FDA has issued a Federal Register notice with its preliminary determination that PHOs are no longer “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS for short. If this preliminary determination is finalized, then PHOs would become food additives subject to premarket approval by the FDA. Foods containing unapproved food additives are considered adulterated under U.S. law, meaning they cannot legally be sold.

If the FDA determines that PHOs are not GRAS, it could, in effect, mean the end of artificial, industrially produced trans fat in foods, says Dennis M. Keefe, PhD, director of the FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety.

Trans fat wouldn’t be completely gone, however, because it also occurs naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy products, Keefe notes. It is also present at very low levels in other edible oils, such as fully hydrogenated oils, where it is unavoidably produced during the manufacturing process.

PHOs are found in many popular processed foods, such as baked goods and frozen foods. They have been widely used as ingredients since the 1950s to increase the shelf-life and flavor stability of foods.

But over time, various studies have linked trans fat — produced when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid — to heart disease. A 2002 report by the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine found a direct correlation between the intake of trans fat and increased levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (commonly referred to as “bad” cholesterol), and, therefore, an increased risk of heart disease.

Source: FDA; November 7, 2013.

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