The popular press was full of reports last month that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is likely to ban trans fats as ingredients in foods.  What the FDA actually did was make a preliminary determination (yet to be finalized) that partially hydrogenated oils – a major source of trans fats in foods – are no longer “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS).  Practically speaking, that is close to banning them, since anything not GRAS would have to go through all kinds of testing (at great expense) to prove its safety before it could be marketed and sold.

Trans fats (including margarine and shortening) have been around for over 100 years.  Their popularity soared in the late 1900s when it was discovered that they improved the taste, texture, and shelf life of many foods, including French fries, donuts, pizza, and coffee creamer.  In the past several decades, however, scientific evidence has accumulated to show that trans fats are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.  As a result, many food manufacturers have already taken steps to eliminate trans fats from their products.  McDonald’s, for example, hasn’t cooked its French fries in trans fats in over 10 years.

According to the FDA, the average American consumer’s consumption of trans fats has already declined to less than a quarter of what it was just nine years ago.  The recent FDA ruling is just the final nail in the trans fat coffin.  Hopefully, trans fats will continue to be phased out, and consumption in the U.S. (and elsewhere) will continue to decline.

To learn more about some of the alternatives to trans fats in foods, click here.

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