Goodbye to Trans Fats

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition

Trans fats will soon be a thing of the past. The Food and Drug Administration has given the food industry three years—until 2018—to phase out the oft-maligned fats, unless the food producer gets explicit permission to use them. (There are no trans fats in Nutrisystem food. In addition to trans fats, Nutrisystem foods are also free of monosodium glutamate [MSG], artificial flavors, high fructose corn syrup and fully and partially hydrogenated oils.) But what exactly is the problem with trans fats? And what makes them so bad, anyway?

The “trans” part has to do with the shape of the fat molecules, which are created—at least in the form being banned—when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil. This creates what you’ve seen on food labels as “partially hydrogenated” oil; this type of fat is solid at room temperature unlike regular vegetable oil, which is liquid. Prime household example: Shortening. Why add the hydrogen? Partially hydrogenated oil lasts longer on the shelf without spoiling, adds texture to certain foods like pre-made frosting, and needs to be replaced less often than liquid oil when used for frying.

They raise and lower your cholesterol at the same time—in the wrong directions. Trans fats have been shown to increase your LDL, or bad cholesterol, while lowering your HDL, or good cholesterol. Trans fats have also been shown to increase inflammation in the body, which is related to multiple diseases and negative conditions, as well as increasing the risk of diabetes. The FDA has estimated that phasing out trans fat could prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 premature deaths each year.

In 2006, New York City banned the use of trans fats in its restaurants, and many manufactured foods have since reduced or removed it. The FDA estimates that between 2003 and 2012, trans fat consumption decreased an estimated 78 percent as companies have exchanged partially hydrogenated fats for alternative shortenings. McDonald’s and other fast food chains stopped using the oils for frying, and even Crisco, the shortening brand most associated with this type of fat, is now made without trans fats.

But the fats can still be found in ready-made cake frostings, microwave popcorn, certain chips and snacks, and certain peanut butters. Some restaurants (outside New York City) still use trans fat oils for frying, because they can fry for longer without changing the oil. And it may even be in foods listed as trans-fat free: Foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving may be listed as trans fat free, but to be described as “containing no trans fat” they must truly have no trans fat. To spot a food hiding these fats, look at the label: The ingredients list will include “partially hydrogenated” oil.