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Published on August 18, 2015

The end of trans fats in your diet can’t come too soon

Now that the Food and Drug Administration has issued a ban on artificial trans fats within the next three years, what does this mean for your diet and health?

“The FDA’s action on this major source of artificial trans fats demonstrates the agency’s commitment to the heart health of all Americans,” said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, the Acting Commissioner in the agency. “This action is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.”

In fact, it takes such a small amount of these so-called trans fats to negatively impact cardiovascular health that the American Heart Association recommends trans fats make up less than one percent of total calorie intake.

“This ban sends a good message to the public that we all need to focus more on our health and be better aware of what we are eating and putting into our bodies,” said Courtney R. Driscoll,  Clinical Nutrition Manager for Cape Cod Healthcare.

“However, the question now is what will the food industry replace trans fats with? Producers still need to extend the shelf life of foods, something trans fats do. They still want to preserve the texture of foods in the way trans fats have,” she said. “Will we now return to more saturated fats, which also are not good for us?

Partially hydrogenated oils – trans fats – gained popularity among producers and consumers because they are cheaper than saturated animal fats such as butter. For a long time, they also were considered to be healthier. Formed when liquid oil is treated with hydrogen gas and made solid, they quickly found their way into fried and baked goods, as well as margarine.

Over the years, however, scientific evidence found that trans fats raised levels of bad cholesterol and could lower levels of good cholesterol.

Driscoll said she is concerned that the elimination of trans fats from processed foods may give people justification to eat those foods regularly.  “I love donuts too, but they are not healthy to eat whether they have trans fats or not,” she said.

“If we really are focusing on a healthy, well-balanced diet of fresh fruits and vegetables along with lean meats and low-fat dairy products – foods with minimal processing – we would not be eating foods with trans fats in the first place,” said Driscoll, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition and dietetics, as well as a Masters Degree in Healthcare Management.

The trans fat ban is expected to save billions of dollars in healthcare costs.

The FDA estimates that while the ban will cost about $6 billion to put in effect, it will result in about  $140 billion over 20 years in healthcare and other costs.

It’s likely you and your family have actually reduced trans fats in your diets in the wake of an earlier decision in 2006 when the FDA mandated that food manufacturers list trans fat content on nutrition labels. As a result, many companies have been eliminating them already. In addition, many some states and cities including California, New York City and Philadelphia have banned trans fats from foods sold by restaurants and bakeries.  So have many restaurants including McDonald’s and KFC.

Still, it continues to be a clear and present threat to cardiovascular health. So, if you are concerned about your health, why wait three years? Reduce trans fats starting now.