What The FDA’s Ban On Trans Fat Means For Your Health

Photographed by Ruby Yeh.
Your favorite snack foods are about to get way healthier: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced this week that it will institute a ban on the trans fats found in many of those delicious treats. This is great news for you and your heart. The agency made the first step toward a ban in 2013 when it "tentatively declared" that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) — which make up nearly all trans fats in processed foods — could no longer be generally recognized as safe. Although many companies have already begun to phase these out (the FDA estimates they've been reduced by about 78% since 2003), they are still found in many processed foods such as frozen pizzas, frosting, and (gasp!) Girl Scout cookies. But, this week, the FDA ban requires companies to either reformulate their products without trans fats or petition for them to be allowed in specific cases over the next three years. The ban won't apply to naturally occurring trans fats found in some dairy and meats. "In this case," writes the FDA's Susan Mayne, PhD, "it has become clear that what’s good for extending shelf life is not equally good for extending human life." What caused the FDA to rethink PHOs? Several studies and models suggest that, across the board, either cutting out or substituting them for saturated fats can lower our risk for heart disease by improving our heart-healthy biomarkers. For instance, a 2002 report from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine showed a strong correlation between the amount of trans fats people consumed and their LDL cholesterol level, which may cause arteries to become clogged. With research like this, the American Medical Association says that the ban could ultimately help save lives. And, according to the FDA's most conservative model, the ban could result in up to 6% lower heart disease risk — preventing between 7,740 and 22,770 deaths per year. Although society tends to see heart disease as a "men's problem," we're beginning to understand just how big of an issue it is for women as well, especially because women may exhibit less-alarming (but just as serious) symptoms. In fact, coronary heart disease — the kind hopefully affected by this ban — is the top killer for men and women in the U.S. "It’s [the FDA's] responsibility to protect health by taking action when needed, based on the best available science," continues Dr. Mayne. "This action will ultimately allow all of us to enjoy safer foods and healthier lives." Just when we thought Thin Mints couldn't get any better.

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