On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration of America banned the use of trans-fats in food. They ruled that these foods are no longer “generally recognised as safe” and as a result are un-fit for human consumption.
According to CNN, “the department has given food manufacturers 3 years to remove the partially hydrogenated oils, or PHOs, from their products. The companies can petition the FDA for a special permit to use it, but no PHOs can be added to human food unless otherwise approved by the FDA”.
This is HUGE news… or is it?
What are Trans-Fats?
Otherwise known as trans fatty acids, trans fats are formed when vegetable oils are hardened into margarine or shortening. Trans-fats are found in a wide range of foods including (but not limited to) fried foods like french fries and fried chicken, baked goods such as doughnuts, cookies, pastries, cereals and crackers, ready made icing… the list goes on. Basically anything that contains shortening, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil.
Why are they used?
- They make processed food “taste” better
- They make processed food “look” better
- They are inexpensive
- They increase the shelf-life of foods
Why have they been banned?
More and more research has found that trans fatty acids actually alter the chemical structure of the lining of the cell. As a result trans fats have been linked to a number of health concerns including the clogging of major arteries, type 2 diabetes and most significantly, heart disease.
According to the ABC, Margaret Hamburg, FDA commissioner, stated “if we can reduce the levels of trans fat currently in the American diet, we can probably save about 7,000 people from a preventable death and prevent about 20,000 heart attacks”.
Are there any loop-holes?
Of course. It appears that food manufacturers have been given three years to find substitutes. If after research, they can argue that there is no substitute available, the FDA may consider granting exemptions. How these exemptions are handed out will be the next big question.
What are my concerns?
Whilst I am all for this move, I am concerned about one thing: will this increase the demand (and then the deforestation and destruction of the Amazon and other natural habitats), for palm oil? You can read all about the problem with palm oil here.
Will Australia follow suit?
According to the ABC:
- The Heart Foundation is all for the move.
- “The Australian Food and Grocery Council argues that consumption of trans fat is already far lower in Australia than it is in the US, removing any need for an outright ban in this country”
- “Public Health Association of Australia warns any bans on trans fats would be difficult for authorities to implement because trans fats are often the by-product of the manufacturing process”…
- Nutritionist Catherine Salexby doesn’t believe a ban here is necessary: “I don’t believe we have the same problem here in Australia that the Americans do with their level of trans fat… the Heart Foundation repeatedly says that the problem with the Aussie diet is the saturated fat, which is another type of that we consume in vaster quantities than trans fats”. (sigh) that’s another topic for another day.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you support this move? Should we ban trans-fats in Australia?