Artificial Trans-Fats no longer Recognized as Safe

Vintage Crisco Can

By Cat, June 18, 2018 (I originally published this post on The EssentiaList) (photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

This is GREAT news! The FDA finalized its determination in 2015, and it became official today, June 18, 2018. Why the delay? They allowed time for food producers to adjust their recipes. Up until now, they were allowed in foods as long as total trans fats were less than 5% per serving, but they had to include the grams of trans fats on the label.

This movement to ban artificial trans fats started in 2006 in New York City and spread to other cities/counties: Philadelphia, PA; Seattle/King County, WA; Montgomery County, MD; and also the state of California (1). It continued to spread to other communities and is now effective in all 50 states as a result of the FDA decision.

This is a major change that affects products like Bisquick, cake and frosting mixes, pancakes & waffles, most margarines, most fried and deep-fried foods, Crisco and other vegetable shortening, non-dairy creamers, most ice creams, doughnuts, crackers, cookies, frozen dinners, and more.

Why this big change? Read on for more

Getting to the truth: man-made fats vs natural fats

Until the 1940s-50s, the word “shortening” was used by bakers and cooks as a term for natural animal fats such as lard and suet that are solid at room temperature but have a soft, creamy quality essential for baked products like pie crusts, and for fried foods. It was later adopted by food manufacturers for man-made products like Crisco that are comprised of trans-fats.

The key word in this FDA ruling is “artificial,” because there are many foods that contain natural trans fats that are good for you – mainly in meats and dairy. For example, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a natural trans-fat that has good health benefits. In fact its benefits are just the reverse of artificial trans fats; for example, CLA decreases the risk of heart disease. It is found in abundance in grass-fed/pasture-raised meat and dairy. (2)

Before I get into the details, I want to assure you that I have a biology/chemistry background, with BAs in both subjects plus 5 years post-graduate work in molecular biology (a branch of chemistry that studies molecules in biological tissues).

Man-made (artificial) trans fats are made by applying the hydrolization process to poly-unsaturated fats pressed from seeds (like corn and soy oil). This process adds hydrogens to double bonds in carbon-chain molecules like fats. Originally, it was believed they were fully-hydrogenating the fats – turning them into saturated fats – when they were only partially-hyrogenating the fats – moving the position of a hydrogen at a double bond from a cis-position (adjacent) to a trans-position (opposite) – forming a different unsaturated fat.

There are two types of double bonds in carbon chains:

  • cis-bonds which produce a kink in the carbon chain, and
  • trans-bonds with produce a rigid straightness in the carbon chain.

In fact, the well-published research that led to Ancel Keys’ 1961 declaration that saturated fats clog arteries and are the cause of heart disease, was actually done on man-made trans fats that were believed to be saturated fats. It was only the development of better methods of determining molecular structure that it was determined these were actually only partially-hydrogenated fats with a trans-structure in the carbon chain.

Most people, including doctors, are not aware that Ancel Keys’ declaration was based on false information, and continue to believe that saturated fats are bad for you. See my earlier articles on The EssentiaList: Love your Butter (2010) and Butter (and other saturated fats) is a health food! (2014), and on Cat’s Kitchen: Chemically-Altered Fats for more.

Now that the truth is out and people are becoming more aware of the truth, man-made trans fats are a thing of the past in American foods. Let’s hope that American doctors that went to medical school in the 1960s-1980s wise up too!

References:

  1. cspinet.org/news/final-farewell-artificial-trans-fat-20180613x
  2. chriskresser.com/can-some-trans-fats-be-healthy/
  3. healthimpactnews.com/2014/time-magazine-we-were-wrong-about-saturated-fats/

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