Blamed for the rise in heart disease at the end of the 19th century, partially hydrogenated fats were created as an alternative to saturated fat and cholesterol containing butter and lard.
Trans fat, partially hydrogenated fat, was added to foods across the spectrum that most of us ate without realizing what the impact of this synthetic fat would have on our health.
It was found in not only margarine sticks and tubs but in baked goods, crackers, and many of our snack foods. According to one source, the FDA found that approximately 95% of prepared cookies, 100% of crackers, and 80% of frozen breakfast products contained trans fat.
Trans fat is made by adding a hydrogen atom to liquid oil, resulting in it becoming a solid fat such as a spread.
The theory was that saturated fat could be replaced by partially hydrogenated fat which was originally unsaturated. Wouldn’t that be healthier?
It took years to discover with research that this was actually more harmful to our heart health than eating saturated fats such as butter.
Latest Regulation of Trans Fat
As a result of the ongoing research showing the harmful effect that trans fat has on our blood vessels and heart, regulation has imposed a ban on trans fat by 2018 in the United States.
Based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine who found that there was no safe level of consumption of trans fat, the FDA has removed it from the generally recognized as safe list and banned its use. Other countries aren’t all following this practice unfortunately.
Slowly food manufacturers have discontinued using it in their food products, reformulating many food items.
In 2006, the amount of trans fat per serving was mandated to appear on the nutrition facts panel of all foods in the US. Now Americans saw which foods had trans fat and could choose to avoid them. However, a claim of 0 trans fat was not as it seemed because it could actually contain 0.5 grams or less per serving. This seems as though it is a trace amount, but adding up total daily intake, could impact heart health.
It is true that there will continue to be some naturally occurring trans fat in foods such as meat and dairy as well as through the manufacturing process of vegetable oils.
The amount of saturated fat in our diet should be monitored and managed as it has been shown to contribute to heart disease. Therefore, elimination of trans fat will not be the cure for heart disease. Instead, a diet where good fats replace saturated fats is the healthiest action we can take.
The trans fat that was once in our foods won’t be missed. In fact, since 2006 when the public became aware of the need to avoid trans fat, most food manufacturers reformulated their foods to substitute other fat sources. At that time, it is estimated that our intake of trans fat fell 78%.
Our hearts will thank us and the FDA (as well as other organizations, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest) that pushed hard for regulation banning trans fat.
It is estimated that 1 in 5 heart attacks will be avoided because of the ban on trans fats in our food supply.
Reading food labels and understanding how the ingredients in our foods (both their good and not so good properties) actually influence our health will help us meet our personal health goals.