WASHINGTON - The Food and Drug Administration is beginning a process that will take artificial trans fat entirely out of the food supply, a move hailed as "lifesaving" by health experts.
FDA is "responding to the fact that the science really demonstrates that trans fat provides no known health benefit and that there really is no safe level of consumption of trans fat," said FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg. "Consumption should be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet."
Trans fat is also known as partially hydrogenated oils or vegetable shortening. It is made by bubbling hydrogen through hot vegetable oil. This chemically converts the liquid oil into a fat that is solid at room temperature.
Food manufacturers use hydrogenated vegetable oils for texture, to increase product shelf life and keep flavors stable. It is most commonly used in some baked goods, canned frosting, stick margarine, coffee creamers and microwave popcorn, said Hamburg.
However, numerous studies have also shown that consumption of trans fat can have "lots of adverse health events, including increasing LDL cholesterol and decreasing HDL, or good cholesterol," said Penny Kris-Etherton, a professor of nutrition at Penn State University in University Park, Penn.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 5,000 Americans a year die of heart disease because artificial trans fat is in the food supply "and another 15,000 will get heart disease," due to it, said Thomas Frieden, CDC director.
Consumer health advocates welcomed the announcement. "I think it's one of the most important lifesaving actions that the FDA could take," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C.
The FDA on Thursday will begin a 60-day public comment period on removing trans fat from the agency's list of ingredients "generally regarded as safe."
"This is the first step in removing artificial trans fats from processed foods," said Hamburg, a process which could take some years. The agency will include enough time for food manufacturers to find adequate substitutes, she said.
FDA required that trans fat be included on the nutrition fact panel on foods in 2006. At that point many companies reformulated their products to remove it.
"Consumption has gone from 4.6 grams trans fat per day in 2003 to about 1 gram per day in 2012," says Hamburg. Americans also consume about 1.2 grams of naturally occurring trans fat, from dairy and red meat, she said.