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What are trans fats and why is the FDA banning them, anyway?

The health world is celebrating today thanks to an announcement from the FDA that it will be tackling trans fats. A preliminary determination has declared that partially hydrogenated oils—a major source of artificial trans fats—isn’t really safe for consumption. If the FDA decides to label it as a food additive, CNN reports, that means companies will not be able to use it in food without express FDA approval.


The kinda scary thing is that you can find partially hydrogenated oils pretty much everywhere in processed foods, from cookies to microwave popcorn to frozen pizza. It’s been linked to health problems, like heart disease, so over the last few years, companies have been trying to eliminate it.


But let’s back up a step or two: What is partially hydrogenated oil, and what’s a trans fat?


First thing’s first: a trans fat is a partially hydrogenated oil, a type of fat that is chemically manufactured. Fats exist in different states—liquids, like vegetable oil, and solids, like butter, are the ones we cook with. Chemists make partially hydrogenated oil by adding hydrogen to oil to make it into a solid. It’s been used since the early 1900s, and you might even have it around the house as margarine or shortening. Food manufacturers in particular like it because it extends the shelf life of their products (and tastes pretty yummy to boot).


Right now, the FDA is in the process of finalizing their conclusion that trans fats need to be pretty much outlawed from food. If that happens, then they’ll go into a 60-day comment period, during which industry members can chip in with their two cents about the decision, and voice their opinion about a timeline for phasing out partially hydrogenated oils. The FDA has said that if the process moves forward, they would like to move as quickly as they can to make a change so that consumers can have healthier food ASAP. But there’s still no word as to when that might happen.




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BY BRITTANY TAYLOR ON 11/7/2013 12:00:00 AM


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