November 22, 2013
OSWEGO, N.Y. – The Food and Drug Administration announced its intention to completely ban the use of trans fat in American foods last Thursday, due to its now known ill health effects.
Trans fat has been used in American foods for over 50 years, but it is now known to have ill health effects that in some cases can even lead to death.
Sarah Formoza is the registered dietitian for SUNY Oswego’s Mary Walker Health Center. Formoza also works for the university’s auxiliary services in the resident dining department.
Formoza talked about what trans fat is, and the different types of trans fats. Trans fat is created when hydrogen is combined with liquid oils to make them more solid, she said.
“There’s naturally occurring trans fat in items like meat from cows and cookies, but that’s different than the industry-made trans fat, which is the one we’re concerned about,” Formoza said.
According to Formoza, in addition to beef and cookies, trans fat can be found in many processed foods, like margarine, Crisco, popcorn, and Bisquick pancake batter.
With all of these trans fats found in common foods it has been called into question how trans fat affects the human body, a topic that was a leading cause in the FDA’s trans fat ban proposal.
Formoza said that “it’s what contributes to heart disease” and that the consumption of trans fat both raises the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol level, and reduces the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which are two effects that are harmful to the body.
However, Formoza also said that, while trans fat has been used in foods for over 50 years, the negative effects of it were not known at the time.
Amy Bidwell is an assistant professor in the department of health promotion and wellness at SUNY Oswego. Bidwell added insight into the world of trans fat.
“Production of hydrogenated fats increased steadily until the 1960s, as processed vegetable fats replaced animal fats in the U.S. and other western countries,” Bidwell said. “At first, the argument was a financial one due to lower costs; advocates also said that the unsaturated trans fats of margarine were healthier than the saturated fats of butter.”
Bidwell also spoke about the first inklings of knowledge of the ill effects of trans fats on the human body.
“As early as 1956 there were suggestions in the scientific literature that trans fats could be a cause of the large increase in coronary heart disease but after three decades the concerns were still largely unaddressed,” Bidwell said. “Studies in the early 1990s, however, brought renewed scrutiny and confirmation of the negative health impact of trans fats. In 1994, it was estimated that trans fats caused 20,000 deaths annually in the U.S. from heart disease.”
It wasn’t even required by the FDA for trans fat to be listed on the nutritional values label on products until 2006, which was the first major step taken against the use of trans fat in foods by the FDA after the negative effects were known, Formoza said.
“What I have always recommended, even before this ban, is for people to consume no trans fat,” Formoza said. “I don’t think any level of it is safe.”
Elizabeth Burns is the director of Mary Walker Health Center. Burns agrees with Formoza on several points.
“The medical research has shown trans fat in foods increase cardiovascular risk,” Burns said. “The fatty acids contribute to plaque in the arteries.”
Burns also agreed that trans fats should be avoided whenever possible.
“Any change to avoid trans fat is positive,” Burns said.
Bidwell also has a negative view of trans fats, but does not have much optimism about health improvements.
“I think it should be banned but most likely manufacturers will come up with something else that will be just as bad or worse in order to produce cheaper products,” Bidwell said.
The reason that this whole movement against trans fat is occurring is because of the negative effects it has on the human body, and whether or not they were known at the time does not change the fact that trans fat was first used by the food production industry out of convenience.
“It was a cheaper, shelf-stable way to make products last,” Formoza said.
These negative views of trans fats have led to certain changes in SUNY Oswego’s dining menus and cooking methods.
“The oil we use for frying is trans fat free,” Formoza said. “The butter blend we use in trans fat free.”
Formoza added that for the last year, the residential dining department switched the baking shortening and doughnut frying oil that is used in the dining halls to a trans fat-free version.
“We have very few items that contain trans fat,” Formoza said. “It is one of my top priorities to remove it completely from the dining centers.”