You are here:

Ask the doctor: Should we ban trans fats?

Q. I’ve heard that the FDA wants to ban trans fats from foods. Do you think it will happen, and will that be good for us?

A. In November 2013, the FDA proposed removing trans fats from its list of ingredients “generally regarded as safe.” If this ruling is made final, companies will have to prove that trans fats are safe if they want to continue to put them in their products. Most of the experts here that I’ve talked to think the ruling will be made final. If so, artificial trans fats will be eliminated from our food supply.

Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat. Most of the trans fats in our foods were created by food manufacturers, because they don’t spoil as readily as other fats and they respond better to repeated heating. By the late 1990s, many commercial cookies and crackers contained trans fats. Restaurant frying oils also were rich in trans fats.

Image: Thinkstock

Trans fats are often found in packaged foods such as cookies.

Besides these advantages for food manufacturers, many doctors assumed that substituting trans fats for saturated fats would be healthy. That’s because diets rich in saturated fats had been shown to raise the risk of heart and blood vessel disease.

About 20 years ago several food scientists, including my Harvard colleague Dr. Walter Willett, discovered that trans fats were at least as heart-unhealthy as saturated fats. They raised LDL (bad) cholesterol, lowered protective HDL cholesterol, increased the risk of blood clots, and fueled inflammation—all of which raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

To their credit, food companies already have responded to the cloud over trans fats by developing healthier alternatives. Many foods today are lower in trans fats than they used to be. And to my palate, they taste just as good.

—Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D.
Editor in Chief
Harvard Health Letter

Posted by: Dr.Health

Back to Top