FDA Bans Trans Fats. Hooray!

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced that it is banning companies from preparing foods with trans fats, artificially manufactured fats that have been shown to increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

“It’s about time, “ says Kevin Marzo, Chief of Cardiology at  Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y.  “Trans fats are toxic. There is no minimal limit. As a toxic substance, they really shouldn’t be put into our food or used to cook our food.”

In past analyses, the FDA has argued that eliminating trans fats from the food supply would prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths every year, although with this announcement the agency would only predict that it would save thousands of lives.

Trans fats entered the food supply more than a century ago, when a German chemist, Wilhelm Normann, learned that added hydrogen atoms could turn vegetable oil solid. His formulation of crystallized cottonseed oil was introduced in 1911 by Procter & Gamble under the brand name Crisco.

The FDA’s new ban, 104 years later, will mean that oils made in this way are no longer “generally recognized as safe” which, essentially, means that food companies can no longer put them in our food.

For years trans fats were in all sorts of products, including forms of margarine that were popularized as alternatives to butter during World War II and as healthier alternatives to saturated fats in the 1960s. This was one case where the medical establishment was completely wrong.

But in the 1990s the true toll of trans fats, which could be found in packaged cakes, peanut butter, pizza, and lots of other foods, started to become clear.  On a calorie by calorie basis, trans fats seem to increase heart disease risk more than any other nutrient, and unlike other fats, sugars, or carbohydrates, they have no nutritional benefit.

For every 2% increase in the amount of energy people get  from trans fats, their risk of heart disease increased 23%, according to one pooled analysis of four prospective studies involving a total of 140,000 patients. Studies that looked at the relationship between the amount of trans fats in people’s body fat showed an even higher risk.

What’s really terrifying about this is until the FDA mandated that food labels tell consumers how much trans fat was in their snacks in 2006, there was almost no way for someone who was concerned to avoid them. In 2007, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned restaurants from using trans fats in cooking.

It was the right call. Since trans fats have no benefits and can only cause harm, the best solution is to ban them from food manufacturing entirely. We all pay the costs of using them through higher insurance premiums and  hospital costs.

The big question this raises, obviously, is what else is in our food that is harming us? And the answer is that we don’t know. “We’re continually studying and we’re continually learning,” says Kirk Garratt , director of interventional cardiology research at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “It wasn’t an evil plot on the part of some corporate interest. It was just incomplete sceince. We still have incomplete science, and we’ll find out about mistakes we made in 2015.”

The only solution is to fund more research – both in the FDA and outside it – to make sure we understand what we’re eating, and what risks we’re exposing ourselves to.  Today, we ended a century-old industrial mistake that could have cost an untold number of lives – maybe a million? – and we need to be sure that we don’t make another one.

But there’s no doubt that this decision–although too long in coming and still three years from taking full effect — should be remembered as the apex of what good regulation can do: allowing society as a group to protect ourselves from a substance that we probably couldn’t limit by mere market forces, and to save lives in the process.

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Source: Forbes