Don’t Trust The Franken-Fat Ban

You may have heard a lot of experts praise the FDA for finally “banning” artificial trans fats.

And I agree it’s a good idea to remove these man-made fats from all of our foods.

But if you look closely at the FDA plan, I think you’ll see it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

As the name suggests, food companies make these “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils” by pumping hydrogen into vegetable oils, which turns them into solids.

These fats have nothing to do with nature. Your body doesn’t even recognize them as nutrients.

And they’ve been linked to many chronic ailments, like obesity, heart disease and memory loss – to name just a few.

But the FDA has still given food companies three whole years to phase out all of their trans fats. Until then, they can use as much of these artificial fats as they want.

Many companies will refuse to reduce the levels of trans fats in their foods over the next three years until they are forced to. The makers of ready-made meals and many bakery goods use trans fats as a cheap way to give their foods texture and flavor. It also keeps food shelf-stable for years.

Other companies will continue to “sneak” trans fats into your groceries for the next three years through a loophole the FDA created in 2006. Back then, the FDA ordered all food makers to list the amount of trans fats in their foods on their ingredients labels.

But there’s a catch. The companies can claim their products contain “0 trans fats” as long as they have less than 0.5g grams of the man-made fats per serving.

And with no guidelines, servings could be defined as two chocolate chip cookies, or 15 potato chips or just enough peanut butter for half of a sandwich.

But, as always, the devil is in the details. It’s very clear the agency is NOT planning a full ban at all.

The fine print reveals that companies can petition the FDA for special permits to use trans fats. And already, many grocery chains and food manufacturers have begun lobbying behind the scenes for exemptions.

They claim people can safely consume small amounts of these Franken-fats. And they argue these artificial fats should be allowed in limited amounts – in products like candy sprinkles!

A number of companies are even using the legally confusing claim that small amounts of trans fats carry the “reasonable certainty of no harm.”

But here’s the real problem. It has become abundantly clear that the people who make and sell your food don’t care about your health.

These Franken-fats have abnormally shaped molecules that interfere with your cells’ ability to metabolize omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

And shortages of these essential fatty acids make you vulnerable to cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Trans fats also contain rancid oils that generate oxidative stress reactions, which damage your arterial walls. In response, your immune system sends LDL cholesterol and calcium to patch the damage. In the process, the cholesterol oxidizes and the calcium hardens, accelerating atherosclerosis.

And to add insult to injury, trans fats lower levels of HDL, the “good” housekeeping cholesterol that helps clean away the patch after the damage heals.

At the same time, trans fats interfere with your hormones, inhibit insulin receptors and depress your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to multiple diseases.

But the people who make your food don’t care if they put these slow-acting poisons in your food. They don’t care if they kill you.

So they will continue to push their agendas with trumped-up studies and political allies.

The only safe level of trans fats is zero – and that means a real “zero.”

So here’s the advice I give my patients…

  • Don’t buy what they’re selling. Avoid the processed meats, grains and pre-packaged meals.
  • Embrace healthy fats, like saturated fats from wild game or organic grass-fed livestock.
  • Look for organic milk, cheese, and other dairy products from grass-fed cows, especially butter. (In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, contributors reviewed 21 studies and found NO EVIDENCE that eating saturated fat increases your risk of heart disease.)1
  • Buy cage-free organic eggs. These provide saturated fats as well as heart-healthy “monounsaturated fats” and “polyunsaturated fats.”

You should also know the names that manufacturers use to “sneak” these Franken-fats into your food. You should avoid foods with ingredient lists that include:

  • Partially hydrogenated oils or PHO;
  • Vegetable oil (partially hydrogenated (fill in the plant source);
  • Cold-expeller pressed oils.

And here’s a good way to guesstimate the hidden trans fat in food…

Look on the label for the total amount of fat and then subtract the amount of saturated fat. The answer will come very close to the total amount of trans fats.

To your good health,

Al Sears, MD

Al Sears, MD, CNS

1. Sin-Tarino, P., et al. “Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar; 91(3): 535-46.