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FDA labeling requirement reduced trans-fats by 58%

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
trans-fats, TFAs, LDL cholesterol, processed foods, snack foods, fried foods

ATLANTA, GA – Trans-fat levels in the average American’s bloodstream plummeted by 58% from 2000 to 2008 after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required food manufacturers to label how much of the unhealthful ingredient is in their products.

During the same period some states passed laws limiting the amounts of trans-fats. For example, California banned trans-fats in restaurant food by 2010 and in retail baked goods by 2011; New York also passed laws limiting the amount of the substances in restaurant food and cooking. The report was prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was published in the February 8 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). This research is a portion of the CDC′s larger National Biomonitoring program, which currently measures more than 450 environmental chemicals and nutritional indicators in individuals.

The CDC researchers selected participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for the years 2000 and 2009; they reviewed trans–fat blood levels before and after the FDA’s 2003 regulation, which took effect in 2006. The statute required manufacturers of food and some dietary supplements to list the amount of trans-fats on the Nutrition Facts panel of the product label. Furthermore, during that period, some local and state health departments encouraged consumers reduce their daily consumption by requiring restaurants to limit their use of trans-fats in food and increase public awareness campaigns about the health risks associated with the unhealthy substances.

“The 58% decline shows substantial progress that should help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in adults,” noted Christopher Portier, Ph.D., director of the CDC′s National Center for Environmental Health. He added, “Findings from the CDC study demonstrate the effectiveness of these efforts in reducing blood TFAs [trans-fats] and highlight that further reductions in the levels of trans-fats must remain an important public health goal.” He explained that the new study provides information for Caucasian adults only; however, additional CDC studies are underway to evaluate blood trans-fat levels in other adult race/ethnic groups, children, and adolescents.

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The CDC study was a cross–sectional survey of the U.S. population weighted to be nationally representative. For the study, researchers used a randomly selected one–half sample of Caucasians aged 20 years and older from the morning fasting sample from NHANES 2000 and 2009. The researchers evaluated four major trans-fats to provide a reasonable representation of their level in blood: elaidic acid, linoelaidic acid, palmitelaidic acid, and vaccenic acid. The study measured trans-fats in 229 fasting adults from the 2000 NHANES and 292 from 2009 NHANES.
The researchers found that the overall decrease in trans–fats was 58%. For specific trans–fats, the decreases were: elaidic acid, 63%; linoelaidic acid,49%; palmitelaidic acid, 49%; and vaccenic acid, 56%.

Unlike other dietary fats, trans-fats are not essential to human health; furthermore, they do not promote good health. A number of studies have reported that high consumption of trans–fats is associated with cardiovascular disease; this finding is in part due to the fact that trans-fats increase LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) blood levels. Switching to a diet low in trans-fats often results in a lowering of LDL cholesterol levels; thus, decreasing the risk for cardiovascular disease.

One type of trans-fat occurs naturally in the milk and body fat of ruminants (i.e., cattle and sheep) at a level of 2–5% of total fat. However, the largest amount of trans-fat consumed today is created by the processed food industry as a side effect of partially hydrogenating unsaturated plant fats (usually vegetable oils). These unhealthy fats have displaced natural solid fats and liquid oils in food products such as fast foods, snack foods, fried foods, and baked goods. They can only be produced by cooking at a very high heat level—beyond that attainable in a household kitchen.

Many factors drive the use of hydrogenated oils in the food industry. The process increases product shelf life and decreases refrigeration requirements. Many baked foods require semi-solid fats to suspend solids at room temperature; partially hydrogenated oils are of the proper consistency to replace animal fats such as butter and lard at a decreased lower cost. They are also an inexpensive alternative to other semi-solid oils such as palm oil.

Reference: CDC