America's trans fat affair: The story behind the artery-clogging additive
Donuts, cookies, pizza, burgers, French fries, popcorn.
It's no surpise that Americans' favorite foods are also some of the worst for them health-wise. But besides high calorie and sodium content, most people do not know they should avoid these foods due to one small but important ingredient: trans fat.
Trans fat, which is formed by combining hydrogen with vegetable oils, is used in many processed foods and fast food menus due to its preservative and binding properties. But in recent years the danger of trans fat — also known as trans fatty acid — and its negative interaction with cholesterol levels has increasingly gained recognition from researchers and policymakers. A series of studies during the 1990s began spotlighting the issue, but it wasn't until 2003 that the Food and Drug Administration required manufacturers to include the fat on nutrition labels.
The debate over trans fat came to a head this November when the FDA announced it was moving toward a total ban on the fat in all foods, whether they be manufactured or served in restaurants. The FDA has preliminarily determined hydrogenated fat is no longer "generally recognized as safe" and has enacted a 60-day comment period before a ban officially takes effect. Select cities, states and brands have already taken strides toward reducing or eliminating trans fat from food, but an outright ban would significantly impact food establishments and industries across the nation.
The story behind trans fat, and how it so completely made its way into our food, is a tricky one. Over the years, gradual steps have been taken toward banning trans fat, but these efforts have been met with by both resistance and receptivity by food makers, politicians and Americans alike.
“We have solid evidence showing the need for today’s action on trans fat.”
— Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods
What makes trans fat so toxic
How trans fat became so common in our foods and restaurants
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Mayor of New York City, 2002-present
Known for his strong stance on health issues — like prohibiting smoking in restaurants and the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces — it's unsurprising that Michael Bloomberg is also opposed to trans fat. In 2006, his influence led the New York City Board of Health's unprecedented ban artificial trans fats from the city's restaurants. The measure's success led Bloomberg to take partial credit for the recent FDA announcement.
Co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, 2004-present
With substantial focus on organic and wholesome foods, Whole Foods is the kind of brand that can lead the way on national health measures. The grocery chain did away with products containing trans fat back in 2003, a full decade before the FDA publicly identified the substance's health risks.
Vice president of industry affairs and food policy for the National Restaurant Association, 2010-present
Considering how common trans fats in many frying practices of restaurants nationwide, it is significant that representatives from the NRA are supporting this issue and giving it attention. McGlockton and other representatives say many restaurant brands have been moving away from trans fat for quite some time, including General Mills, Campbell Soup and Nestle.
California attorney, anti-trans fat activist
Joseph has been an avid opponent of trans fat in the American food supply since at least 2003, when he launched the website BanTransFats.com. The same year, he brought a lawsuit against Nabisco, the company that produces Oreos, for their trans fat content. Although the suit was dropped, it did result in a move by Nabisco to trans fat-free Oreos. He also brought litigation against McDonald's for the trans fat in their French fries.
Executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest
The expertise and research of the CSPI has been an important factor in the trans fat debate. The organization called for trans fat to be listed on nutrition labels almost 20 years ago, and it continues to push for the issue. Jacobson himself blogs about the danger of trans fat and is the author of several health-related books, including "Salt: the Forgotten Killer" and "Liquid Candy: How Soft Drinks are Harming Americans’ Health."
A full ban on trans fats will impact numerous manufacturers and companies in America's food industries
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