Artificial trans fat, commonly found in such processed foods as doughnuts, frozen pizzas and coffee creamer, could soon become a grocery store relic as the Food and Drug Administration takes a major step toward cutting the artery-clogging substance out of the American food supply.
The FDA announced Thursday that it has made a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils — a major source of trans fat — are no longer considered “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS.
There is a 60-day public comment window before this determination is finalized. If approved, the measure would lump partially hydrogenated oils with other food additives that require special approval to be legally used and sold in food.
The measure “could, in effect, mean the end of artificial, industrially-produced trans fat in foods,” said Dennis M. Keefe, PhD, director of FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety, in a news release Thursday.
Trans fat is already banned in several cities, including New York City, and in 2006 the FDA began requiring food manufacturers to include trans fat details on nutritional labels. As a result of these changes, trans fat intake has declined from 4.6 grams per day in 2003 to about one gram per day in 2012, the FDA said.
The agency said further reducing trans fat in food could prevent 7,000 deaths from heart disease and 20,000 heart attacks every year.
Trans fat consumption has been linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, in which plaque builds up inside the arteries and can lead to heart attack. There’s also research showing that eating trans fat can cause inflammation, lower good cholesterol, and increase aggression, irritability and impatience.
Trans fat can be found in processed foods including crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies, microwave popcorn, vegetable shortening, margarine, coffee creamers, refrigerated biscuits and cinnamon rolls, and ready-to-use frostings, among other products, the FDA said.
Currently, a food company can claim that a product has “0 grams trans fat” as long as the food contains less than 0.5g of trans fat per serving. The FDA recommends that consumers look at the ingredients list to confirm whether or not the product contains partially hydrogenated oil.
If the measure to eliminate partially hydrogenated oils is approved, the substance would be phased out over time. The FDA does not have a timeline in place and has not released information about how long it would take to completely remove products with trans fat from store shelves.