As we know, the FDA isn't always on top of things, but now, at last, they are trying to make your junk food a little less terrible for your health. On Thursday, the FDA announced a proposal to eliminate notoriously-unhealthy trans fats from the food industry, labeling them a "significant public health concern." If the proposal passes, the United States could see a ban on trans fats in processed foods. According to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, a ban is for our own good.
“The FDA’s action today is an important step toward protecting more Americans from the potential dangers of trans fat," Hamburg said. "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 fats, aka, artificially-solidified fatty acid, is a common ingredient in pretty much all of our guilty food pleasures (cookies, chips, biscuits, popcorn, pizza dough, deep fried stuff and some margarines — the list goes on) and its nasty side effects can include stroke, type II diabetes, and various heart diseases.
So why is the artery-clogging substance even still around? Well, trans fats are cheaper and give processed food significantly longer shelf life. At fast food restaurants, the oil containing trans fats can be used in deep friers multiple times.
Small amounts of the fats do occur naturally in dairy products and meat, although it's unclear if they are as dangerous. The American Heart Association recommends a maximum intake of 2 grams of trans fats per day, which is what you'd get from a normal diet anyway (unless you're a vegan, in which case, good for you). Basically, you really shouldn't be eating them at all.
The FDA is sort of late to the trans fat-regulation party. A decade ago, Denmark became the first country to go trans fat free, and since then, it's been followed by Switzerland, Austria, and Iceland. Sweden is on its way to banning the substance, and the European Union is looking into it, too.
In 2008, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill making California the first state to terminate trans fat, and before failing to save us from giant sodas, outgoing Mayor Bloomberg got them banned in New York City as well. Since 2007, all restaurants have been barred from using the substance, and according to a study of 14,854 receipts from chains such as McDonalds, KFC, Subway, and Pizza Hut, the average meal has gone from 2.9 grams (150 percent of maximum daily intake) to 0.5 gram (which is considered fine).
Since 2006, processed food products have had to label their trans fat content, which caused many food giants to change their practice (including Oreos, after a landmark lawsuit — and they still taste divine). Hell, even Girl Scout Cookies have had been free from trans fats for seven years now.
As for now, however, you can still find the substance in the super market (watch out for "partially hydrogenated oils" on the labels).
In the meantime, the U.S. continues its global crusade to make other countries reconsider their ban on GMO foods, which also have a reputation for causing a number of scary health and environment problems.