Trans fats are common in processed foods, including cookies, pizza and coffee creamers. (Photo : Reuters)
Artificial trans fats will be banned from food production in the near future by the Food and Drug Administration, NBC News reported.
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The government agency announced Thursday that food makers will be required to gradually phase out artificial trans fats. The shift could reduce annual heart attacks by 20,000 and save 7,000 lives, according to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg.
Found in many processed foods, artificial trans fats clog arteries and increase risks for heart disease by both raising bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and lowering good cholesterol (HDL). The FDA began requiring food makers to put trans fats on nutritional labels in 2006. One year later, New York City banned trans fats from restaurants.
The FDA doesn't yet have an exact date for the nationwide artificial trans fats ban.
"We want to do it in a way that doesn't unduly disrupt markets," said Michael Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods. Still, he added, the "industry has demonstrated that it is by and large feasible to do."
Partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, appear in cookies, pizza and other baked goods. They are not "generally recognized as safe" as a food ingredient, according to the FDA.
Artificial trans fats were actually once seen as a healthier substitute to saturated fats. Food makers implemented them for the supposed health benefits and as an economical way to maintain flavor and texture, according to NBC News diet and health editor Madelyn Fernstrom.
The FDA decision "comes from decades of research on the effects of artificial trans fats on heart health," Fernstrom said. "While estimates of dietary intake of trans-fats among Americans has decreased nearly 75 percent in about a decade, there remain concerns about the inclusion of any trans-fats in foods."
During the next two months, people can send comments to the agency, which is looking to collect data on the effects of an artificial trans fat ban and the time it would take to implement one.
In the interim, Hamburg said, "consumers can make healthy choices by checking trans fat levels on the nutrition facts panel on the back of processed food packages and avoiding those with trans fats."
There's no safe level of consumption of artificial trans fat, according to the Independent Institute of Medicine, Hamberg said.
Many food manufacturers have already switched to zero trans fat production, including McDonald's, which famously changed its fries to trans-fat-free oil in 2008.