The Food and Drug Administration has announced plans to have so-called “partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs),” which are the main source of artificial trans fats in processed foods, to be classified as food additives. After reviewing studies on trans fats, the FDA issued a Federal Register notice, which is preliminarily determination that PHOs are no longer “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). The public, include scientists and other experts in nutrition and health, have 60 days to comment on the FDA’s conclusion, and if after that time the agency still deems that trans fats are unsafe, manufacturers would need to get FDA approval to use PHOs and trans fats in their products.
What Exactly are Trans Fat?
Trans fats are a byproduct of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs). By bubbling hydrogen gas through oil under certain conditions, manufactures can turn liquid oils into whatever saturation or thickness that they desire. Such partially hydrogenated oils have become popular because they give foods taste and texture, and in the 1950s, trans fats emerged as a way to increase the shelf life for processed foods such as baked goods.
An additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year could be prevented by reducing trans fats, according to the FDA.
The oils behind trans fats can be found in crackers, cookies, frozen pies, other baked goods, microwave popcorn and other snacks, frozen pizza, coffee creamers, refrigerated dough products (like biscuits and cinnamon rolls), ready-to-use frostings, vegetable shortenings and stick margarine, according to the FDA.
Trans fat content has been labeled on foods since 2006, and since then, consumption rates have dropped from about 4.6 grams of trans fat per day in 2003, to about 1 gram per day in 2012.
Health Damage Caused by Trans Fats
These unnatural man-made fats cause dysfunction and chaos in your body on a cellular level.
- Atherosclerosis: A study on mice suggests that high levels of trans-fats cause atherosclerosis by reducing the responsiveness of a key protein, transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta, that controls growth and differentiation in cells. The process of hydrogenation has adverse consequences because natural essential fatty acids are destroyed and the new artificial isomers formed are structurally similar to saturated fats, lack the essential metabolic activity of the parent compounds, and inhibit the enzymatic desaturation of linoleic and linolenic acid.
- Colon Cancer: Trans fats interfere with enzymes your body uses to fight cancer. Studies are showing people who consume the most trans fat increase their risk of colon cancer by a staggering 86 percent. These findings are highly relevant considering that colon cancer is among the top three cancers affecting modern society. Dr. Lisa C. Vinikoor of the University of North Carolina says the reason trans fat increases the risk of colon cancer is because it alters the balance of bile in the colon.
- Diabetes: They interfere with the insulin receptors in your cell membranes. A study published in ASCN on, Dietary fat intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in women clearly shows for a 5% increase in energy from polyunsaturated fat, the RR (relative risk) was 0.63 (0.53, 0.76; P < 0.0001) and for a 2% increase in energy from trans fatty acids the RR was 1.39 (1.15, 1.67; P = 0.0006). It was concluded that substituting non-hydrogenated polyunsaturated fatty acids for trans fatty acids would likely reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes substantially. Trans fats are fast activators of specific potassium channel in the pancrease. A team of researchers at the University of Alberta have discovered that people with a high fat diet, or overweight may be at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, if they carry a particular type of common genetic trait called as a polymorphism.
- Decreased immune function: An article by nutritionist Dr. Mary Enig says that consuming trans fatty acids “Affects immune response by lowering efficiency of B cell response and increasing proliferation of T cells.” Oxidative stress occurs when the number of free radicals produced exceeds the body’s defenses against them. This is harmful because their radical movement within cells damages and eventually kills the cells they inhibit.
- Reproduction Issues: They interfere with enzymes needed to produce sex hormones and decrease women’s testosterone level. Processed vegetable oils are prone to oxidation, causing free radicals in the body. Reducing oxidative stress by eliminating these fats is important in protecting a woman’s reproductive system and increasing the ability to conceive.
- Obesity: According to a study reported, Trans fat diet induces abdominal obesity and changes in insulin sensitivity in monkeys(2007), it was reported that TFAs enhance intra-abdominal deposition of fat, even in the absence of caloric excess, and were associated with insulin resistance, with evidence that there is impaired post-insulin receptor binding signal transduction.
- Heart disease: Consuming trans fat has been tied to an increased risk for coronary heart disease, a condition in which plaque builds up inside the arteries, which may lead to a heart attack. Previous research, including a 2002 report from the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine, found a direct correlation between eating trans fats and increased levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, which in turn can increase heart disease risk. The institute recommended against eating any amount of the fats, finding they offered no health benefit.
- Asthma: A study based on, Dietary intake of fatty acids, antioxidants and selected food groups and asthma in adults concluded that a high margarine intake increased the risk of onset of asthma in adulthood (adjusted odds ratio (OR) 3rd tertile: 1.73 (95% confidence interval (95% CI): 1.05-2.87), P for trend=0.050), the effect being stronger in men (2nd tertile: OR=1.66, 3rd tertile: OR=2.51) than in women (2nd tertile: OR=0.91; 3rd tertile: OR=1.47).
It’s time to take a step back and think about the foods we are eating. The choices we make today will surely affect the future of our foods. By making better choices when we shop for groceries and eat out at restaurants, we send a direct message to the food industry that we will no longer tolerate foods that compromise our health.