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The Informed Parent

Trans Fats

by Shanna R. Cox, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jan. 22, 2007
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This week's article is a combination of a clip from a New York Times article and a wealth of information available about trans fats through the Food and Drug Administration. It contains excellent definitions, examples, and suggestions about how to understand and avoid trans fats in order to improve health and reduce cholesterol. These are choices that need to be made at a family level, not just an individual one. Here's to your health and good start to a New Year!

NEW YORK BANS MOST TRANS FATS IN RESTAURANTS

by Thomas J. Lueck and Kim Severson; Rebecca Cathcart Contributed Reporting.

Published: December 6, 2006

The New York City Board of Health voted yesterday to adopt the nation's first major municipal ban on the use of all but tiny amounts of artificial trans fats in restaurant cooking, a move that would radically transform the way food is prepared in thousands of restaurants, from McDonald's to fashionable bistros to Chinese take-outs.

Some experts said the measure, which is widely opposed by the restaurant industry, would be a model for other cities. Chicago is considering a similar prohibition that would affect restaurants with more than $20 million in annual sales.

"New York City has set a national standard," said Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, who predicted that other communities would follow suit.

Trans fats are the chemically modified food ingredients that raise levels of a particularly unhealthy form of cholesterol and have been squarely linked to heart disease. Long used as a substitute for saturated fats in baked goods, fried foods, salad dressings, margarine and other foods, trans fats also have a longer shelf life than other alternatives.

The following excerpt is taken from the listed website for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition:

http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/transfat.html

Trans Fat Coming to a Label Near You!

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires food manufacturers to list trans fat (i.e., trans fatty acids) on Nutrition Facts and some Supplement Facts panels.

Scientific evidence shows that consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol levels that increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, over 12.5 million Americans suffer from CHD, and more than 500,000 die each year. This makes CHD one of the leading causes of death in the United States today.

FDA has required that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol be listed on the food label since 1993. By adding trans fat on the Nutrition Facts panel (required by January 1, 2006), consumers now know for the first time how much of all three--saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol--are in the foods they choose. Identifying saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol on the food label gives consumers information to make heart-healthy food choices that help them reduce their risk of CHD. This revised label, which includes information on trans fat as well as saturated fat and cholesterol, will be of particular interest to people concerned about high blood cholesterol and heart disease. However, all Americans should be aware of the risk posed by consuming too much saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. But what is trans fat, and how can you limit the amount of this fat in your diet?

What Is Trans Fat? Where will I find trans fat?

Vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils.

Unlike other fats, the majority of trans fat is formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine. However, a small amount of trans fat is found naturally, primarily in some animal-based foods. Essentially, trans fat is made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil--a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats.

Trans fat, like saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, raises the LDL (or "bad") cholesterol that increases your risk for CHD. On average, Americans consume 4 to 5 times as much saturated fat as trans fat in their diet.

Although saturated fat is the main dietary culprit that raises LDL, trans fat and dietary cholesterol also contribute significantly. Trans fat can often be found in processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils such as vegetable shortenings, some margarines (especially margarines that are harder) crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, and baked goods.

Are All Fats The Same?

Simply put: no. Fat is a major source of energy for the body and aids in the absorption of vitamins A,D,E, and K, and carotenoids. Both animal and plant-derived food products contain fat, and when eaten in moderation, fat is important for proper growth, development, and maintenance of good health. As a food ingredient, fat provides taste, consistency, and stability and helps us feel full. In addition, parents should be aware that fats are an especially important source of calories and nutrients for infants and toddlers (up to 2 years of age), who have the highest energy needs per unit of body weight of any age group.

Saturated and trans fats raise LDL (or "bad") cholesterol levels in the blood, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease. Dietary cholesterol also contributes to heart disease. Unsaturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, do not raise LDL cholesterol and are beneficial when consumed in moderation. Therefore, it is advisable to choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol as part of a healthful diet.

What Can I Do About Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, and Cholesterol?

When comparing foods, look at the Nutrition Facts panel, and choose the food with the lower amounts of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Health experts recommend that you keep your intake of these nutrients as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet. However, these experts recognize that eliminating these three components entirely from your diet is not practical because they are unavoidable in ordinary diets.

Where Can I Find Trans Fat on the Food Label?

Take a look at the Nutrition Facts panel at the top of this page. Consumers can find trans fat listed on the Nutrition Facts panel directly under the line for saturated fat.

Why Do Some Products Not Declare Trans Fat On Their Labels?

There may be two reasons why you are not seeing trans fat on a product's label.

First, products entering interstate commerce on or after January 1, 2006 must be labeled with trans fat. As this is happening, FDA realizes that it will take some time for food products to move through the distribution chain to a store shelf. Thus, it may take a few months for products that are listing trans fat on their label to show up on a store shelf. However, you will see many products with trans fat listed since companies have already begun to declare trans fat on their products' labels.

Second, FDA has granted enforcement discretion to some firms to use old label stock that do not declare trans fat after the effective date of January 1, 2006. In these cases, food firms followed the required process described in FDA's Guidance for Industry and FDA: Requesting an Extension to Use Existing Label Stock after the Trans Fat Labeling Effective Date of January 1, 2006 (Revised). For each request, FDA is considering whether the declared label value for trans fat is 0.5 g or less per serving. This information is important because lower amounts of trans fat would have less impact on public health than higher amounts of trans fat. Thus, trans fat information in the Nutrition Facts panel will be missing on some products (that contain lower amounts of trans fat) throughout the next year.

If trans fat is not declared on the label and you are curious about the trans fat content of a product, contact the manufacturer listed on the label.

Next month we will continue with the comparative review of your food choices, with particular attention given to trans fat.




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