The Bottom Line: Foods with Trans Fat are Lingering

Hooray!

On June 17th, the Food and Drug Administration ended a battle that started a quarter century ago. The FDA banned partially hydrogenated oil, the source of artificial trans fat. The food industry will ask the FDA to allow specific amounts in certain foods, but I hope the FDA permits only levels that won’t harm consumers.

Food with trans fat entered our food supply more than a century ago, when chemists found that reacting liquid oils with hydrogen turned them into more-solid fats. That led to shortenings like Crisco (which replaced lard, butter, and beef tallow) and stick margarines. After World War II, the floodgates opened. Partially hydrogenated oils were cheap and shelf stable, and companies began to use them in thousands of foods.

Foods with Trans Fats are on the Way Out

Vegetable oil, usually a liquid, can be made into a semi-solid shortening by reacting with hydrogen. Partial hydrogenation reduces the levels of polyunsaturated oils and also creates trans fats, which promote heart disease.

A committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded in 2004 that on a gram-for-gram basis, trans fat is even more harmful than saturated fat. Many food manufacturers have replaced hydrogenated shortening with less harmful ingredients.

The Institute of Medicine had advised consumers to consume as little trans fat as possible, ideally less than about 2 grams a day (that much might come from naturally occurring trans fat in beef and dairy products). Harvard School of Public Health researchers estimate that trans fat had been causing about 50,000 premature heart attack deaths annually, making partially hydrogenated oil one of the most harmful ingredients in the food supply.

Is Canola Oil Healthy?

“Poisonous.” “Toxic.” “Avoid like the plague.”

Is canola oil healthy? For some reason, people love to hate it. Really hate it.

That’s partly because the canola plant is derived from rapeseed, which contains a toxic compound called erucic acid and bitter-tasting compounds called glucosinolates.