Posted on 12/17/2013 at 12:19:08 PM by Student BloggerBy Sabrina Sales Martinez, MS, RD
In November the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a notice within the Federal Register on a tentative ban of trans fatty acids or trans fat in the American food supply and its removal from the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list. The World Health Organization (WHO) has long recommended the complete removal of trans fats from restaurants and food industry. Based on several controlled trials and observational human studies and also mentioned in the FDA statement, trans fats are said to provide no benefit to human health and are not essential. It's been found that trans fat can be more harmful to one's health than saturated fat. This ban would only include the artificial type of trans fats usually found in processed foods in the form of partially hydrogenated oils that have appealing properties for the food industry, which include cost, longer shelf-life and endurance of recurrent heating. The removal of trans fat would occur through a defined time period with a deadline for the food industry, however this timeline has not been established as the FDA has requested comments from food manufactures to have a better idea how long they will need to comply with the forthcoming ban.
What public health impact might this measure provide? According to the FDA, this measure would prevent 10,000 to 20,000 cases of heart disease and 3,000 to 7,000 coronary related deaths per year. Consumption of trans fats are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, infertility, endometriosis, gallstones, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.[3-4] Trans fats are also known to increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol and decrease high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States and a huge global public health issue. 
Certainly, prevention of these conditions and diseases is a noble public health cause but is complete removal of trans fatty acids from our food supply feasible? Will reformulation of products that currently contain trans fats lead to a higher amount of saturated fat or total fat? A systematic review of such policies was conducted by Downs et al. that included 26 studies on self-regulation, labeling, voluntary limits, local bans and national bans to evaluate their effectiveness at reducing trans fat. Findings from the review demonstrated that all policies were effective in reducing trans fat from processed food sources, however the local and national bans were the most successful. They also found that reformulation mostly developed products without trans fat and produced a small change in saturated fat, with baked goods being an exception. Also shown was that the fatty acid profile of many of the reformulated food items were enhanced, while the total fat content stayed the same. Although, such reviews do have limitations, it does provide some encouraging information on the application of such policies in real settings and its potential for impacts on public health.
There does not seem to be too much opposition to the ban on trans fats and certainly over the years we have seen that is possible and attainable. Currently, there is enough scientific evidence to show that consumption of trans fat is harmful to one's health and avoidance may prevent future disease outcomes, especially cardiovascular disease related outcomes. Food manufactures have until January 7, 2014 to comment on this notice. As a nutritionist, I am looking forward to seeing “trans fat free” products on the grocery shelves and knowing that it may help to reduce the risk of American's #1 killer, cardiovascular disease. So I say: “So long trans fat!”
1. Federal Register. Tentative Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils; Request for Comments and for Scientific Data and Information. Available at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/11/08/2013-26854/tentative-determination-regarding-partially-hydrogenated-oils-request-for-comments-and-for
2. Uauy R, Aro A, Clarke R, L'AbbÉ MR, Mozaffarian D, Skeaff CM,, et al. WHO scientific update on trans fatty acids: summary and conclusions. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009;63:S68–75. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2009.15.
3. Teegala SM, Willett WC, Mozaffarian D. Consumption and health effects of trans fatty acids: a review. J AOAC Int. 2009;92:1250–7. [PubMed]
4. Mozaffarian D, Katan MB, Ascherio A, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. 2006;354:1601–13.
5. Centers for Disease and Control (CDC). Nutrition for Everyone: Trans Fat. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/fat/transfat.html
6. Downs SM, Thow AM, Leeder SR. The effectiveness of policies for reducing dietary trans fat: a systematic review of the evidence: Bull World Health Organ 2013;91:262-9H.