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US Moves to Reduce Trans Fats Risks

  • Pamela Dockins

FILE - Fast food French fries.

FILE - Fast food French fries.

U.S. government food regulators have launched an effort to eliminate partially hydrogenated oils, the primary source of so-called "trans fats" found in some processed foods. Health officials say consumption of trans fats is potentially harmful and can lead to health conditions that are deadly.

It is a case in which what tastes good is not necessarily good for you.

Many of the foods that can contain trans fats are often regarded by Americans as comfort food.

Dr. Lisa Martin, a George Washington University cardiologist, says a lot of people eat a fair amount of these foods.

"Cookies, cakes, pies and pastries, a lot of those pre-made foods have the trans fat to increase the shelf life," said Martin.

Martin says health articles have shown that artery-clogging trans fats can lead to significant health problems.

"There are some of the articles that have shown that small amounts of trans fats reach 2 percent increases of trans fat in the diet. You can increase your chance of having a heart attack by as much as 30 percent in some of those articles. So, it is a significant risk factor for developing heart disease," she said.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says some manufacturers and retailers have voluntarily cut trans fat levels in their products.

It says a further reduction could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.

FDA food safety director Dennis Keefe says studies on the potential benefits show why trans fats should be phased out.

"Information provided by recognized scientific bodies such as the Institute of Medicine which have indicated that and recommended that consumption of trans fats should be reduced to as close to zero as possible," said Keefe.

Artificial trans fats have been used in restaurants and in processed foods to improve the texture, flavor and shelf life of foods.

But Keefe says a growing number of food producers are finding alternatives.

"There are products that indeed can be formulated without the use of partially hydrogenated oils," he said.

The FDA proposal for eliminating partially hydrogenated oils will go through a 60-day comment period before being finalized.
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