In the past, saturated fats and cholesterol were the main cardiovascular villains. Now, trans fat is believed to be the most harmful dietary fat, and a major contributor to heart disease. Trans fat increases LDL (bad) cholesterol while decreasing HDL (good) cholesterol.
The Food and Drug Administration estimates that the average American consumes about 1 gram per day of artificial trans fats. Small amounts naturally exist in meat and milk, but the main source is processed foods. Artificial trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils have been used to improve the stability and shelf life of foods, such as packaged snacks and crackers, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, coffee creamers and refrigerated dough products.
Since 2006, manufacturers have been required to include the amount of trans fats on nutrition labels, resulting in the elimination of trans fats by many food makers. Restaurants, including McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, and Dairy Queen, have reduced or eliminated their use of trans fats without increasing their use of saturated fats by switching to other oils for deep frying.
Consumers who consume high levels of trans fats are mainly those who are brand loyal to products that have been resistant to change. Also, labels are allowed to report 0 trans fats as long as the amount is less than 0.5 grams per serving. While that is a small amount, if the listed serving size is also small, you may end up consuming more trans fats than you realize.
In November 2013, the FDA published a federal notice with the preliminary determination that artificial PHOs created by hydrogenation of unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids are not generally recognized as safe. Products with food additives that are not generally recognized as safe must be reviewed and approved by the FDA before the food hits the market. If PHOs are determined to not be generally recognized as safe, manufacturers of packaged foods with PHOs would have to reconstitute their products or file a food additive petition.
Until a final decision is made regarding PHOs, be aware of the products you consume. Read nutrition labels and check trans fats, as well as saturated fat and cholesterol, and confirm whether PHO is an ingredient. Use monounsaturated or polyunsaturated cooking oil, and find out if the restaurants you frequent are trans fat-free.
According to experts, eliminating trans fats from our diet could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.