June 21, 2024

CDC Finds Significant Decrease in Trans Fats Levels

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced today that trans fat levels in the blood of white American adults has fallen 58% from 2000 to 2009.

Artificial trans fatty acids are made when hydrogen is bubbled through liquid oils. The hydrogen bonds to some of the carbon atoms in the unsaturated fats in a “trans” configuration, which is straight, unlike the “cis” configuration, which is twisted. It turns the unsaturated fatty acids into partially-saturated fatty acids, making the oil a malleable solid that melts when heated. The fat is less likely to become rancid and is much less expensive than butter or lard.

In 2006, a review in the New England Journal of Medicine found that every year in the U.S., 30,000 to 100,000 deaths from heart disease were caused by trans fat consumption. For most foods, science has established a safe upper intake level. But trans fats are so bad there is no upper level because there is no safe intake amount!

Scientists think that consuming artificial trans fats increase risk of developing these diseases:

  • Heart disease. There is a very strong connection between trans fat intake and heart disease. In fact, trans fats are more dangerous than any other food on a calorie-per-calorie basis.
  • Cancer. Studies have linked trans fat consumption and high-grade prostate cancer and breast cancer.
  • Stroke. A new study found that trans fat intake was associated with increased risk of ischemic stroke in older women.
  • Obesity. While there isn’t strong consensus on this issue, one six-year study at Wake Forest found that monkeys fed a diet heavy in trans fat gained more than four times more weight than monkeys fed a monounsaturated fat diet.
  • Liver disease. The enzymes in our body may not be able to break down trans fatty acids, and they are metabolized in a different way by the liver.
  • Depression. Scientists have discovered that people who eat a diet heavy in artificial trans fats have a 48% higher risk of depression than those who don’t consume that fat.

The J.M. Smucker Company, the American manufacturer of Crisco, reformulated that product in 2004, making it from saturated palm oil combined with soybean and sunflower oils. The company claimed this reduced artificial trans fats to zero grams per tablespoon. Original Crisco contained 1.5 grams of trans fats per tablespoon. The company said in 2007 that Crisco was reformulated and contains less than one gram of trans fat per serving.

In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) told the Canadian and United States governments they should limit trans fats consumption. Governments around the world started mandatory labeling requirements for any food that contained trans fats.

The NAS didn’t recommend elimination of the fat because it occurs naturally in many foods, such as butter and heavy cream; scientists believe it’s not dangerous when it’s naturally made. The agency recommends that trans fatty acid consumption should be “as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.”

In 2003, Denmark started laws that regulated the sale of foods containing artificial trans fats as an ingredient. Also in that year, the United States, the FDA issued a regulation requiring food manufacturers to list trans fats on the nutrition label of foods. The regulation became law in 2006.

The U.S. government lets manufacturers list an amount of “less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving” as zero. That means that if you eat three servings of a food that has 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving, you’re consuming 1.5 grams of trans fats, while thinking you’re consuming zero.

State and local governments were more proactive. In 2005, the city of Tiburon, California required all restaurants to cook with trans fat-free oils; the entire state followed suit in 2008. In 2006, New York City banned trans fats in restaurant foods. The Philadelphia City Council passed a ban on the fake fat in 2007.

The CDC study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is significant. Doctors hope that this decrease will translate to fewer cases of cardiovascular disease in the future.

The years of 2000 and 2009 were chosen to measure the effects of the FDA’s regulation of the fat. The director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, Dr. Christopher Portier, said that “findings from the CDC study demonstrate the effectiveness of these efforts in reducing blood TFAs and highlight that further reductions in the levels of trans fats must remain an important health goal.”

This study marked the first time trans fat levels were measured in human beings. While the study measured the blood levels for white adult Americans, studies are currently ongoing to measure the levels in other groups, including other ethnic groups and children.

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