According to the Food and Drug Association’s news release, hydrogenated oils are not generally recognized as safe for consumption due to their high dietary source of trans fats.
Scientists reached this conclusion over 20 years ago in the early-1990s as studies gradually revealed the correlation between trans fatty acids and cardiovascular health complications. By 2002, the American government openly acknowledged the validity of extensive scientific research, stating that large amounts of trans fats are unsafe for human consumption. More than a decade later, the FDA has finally taken the initiative to restrict these hazardous man-made fats from American food supplies.
At the turn of the 20th century, partially hydrogenated oils were first introduced in food processing in order to increase a product’s shelf life, and completely alter the textures and consistencies of packaged foods.
The process of hydrogenation chemically modifies liquid fats, changing them into solids at room temperature. The carbon atoms in saturated fats are thus saturated with hydrogen atoms, directly altering the chemical structure of the fatty acids.
While small trace amounts of trans fats are found in some animal products, humans most commonly consume them as an artificial byproduct of partially hydrogenated oil.
The American Heart Association recommends less than one gram of trans fats per day. Once one factors in the amount of naturally occurring trans fats found in some meat and dairy products, “This leaves virtually no room at all for industrially manufactured trans fats” to be consumed in the average diet.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, trans fats have been shown to raise low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol levels while also lowering high-density lipoprotein (good) cholesterol levels. This ultimately increases the risk of experiencing life-threatening health complications such as heart disease and stroke.
FDA commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. is hopeful for the monumental initiative that the FDA is taking in recognizing the dangers of trans fats in processed foods. “Further reduction in the amount of trans fat in the American diet could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year,” Hamburg said.
As of late, many food manufacturers have already taken the step towards eliminating these hazardous fats from their products. McDonald’s, for example, has not fried their French fries in trans fats for nearly a decade.
As a result, the FDA reports that from 2003 to 2012, trans fat intake among Americans has decreased drastically from 4.6 to roughly one gram per day. Yet, trans fats “remain an area of significant public health concern,” Hamburg stated. Health specialists unanimously agree that human consumption of any level of trans fats is generally unsafe.
Recently under pressure from health advocacy groups, the U.S. government officially made trans fat labeling mandatory as of 2006.
While this may pose a seemingly simple solution to the issue of trans fat consumption in the United States, misleading labeling continues to leave many Americans at risk. Current law makes it completely legal to list trans fat content as zero if a product has lower than .5 grams a serving. As a result, if you were to consume four servings of a food product that has .4 grams of trans fats, you have already unknowingly exceeded the American Health Association’s suggested daily trans fat intake.
These numerous legal loopholes allow food manufacturers to openly deceive unsuspecting consumers. So how do we know exactly what we are eating? The FDA advises Americans to look for key ingredients on food labels: “shortening”, “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil”, and “hydrogenated vegetable oil.” These words may all hint at the presence of artery-clogging trans fats that are absent from nutritional facts due to legal technicalities.
Luckily, UCLA’s On-Campus Dining Services have made it easy and convenient for health-conscious students to gain a better understanding of exactly what they are eating. For students who wish to avoid trans fats as well as other unhealthy food additives, Dining Services provides dining hall menus and nutritional information that is updated daily.
While trans fats are still present in a select few dishes on campus, Dining Services has developed an honest and truthful method of labeling these ingredients regardless of whether a dish contains less than .5 grams of a particular substance.
However, UCLA’s Dining Services has recently made progressive steps towards improving the quality and nutrition of on-campus dining. Bruin Plate, the newest addition to UCLA’s five on-campus dining halls, boasts both fresh and healthy dishes using locally grown and organically raised ingredients. Be sure to visit Bruin Plate, Sproul’s new residential restaurant, for healthy and wholesome dining options.
Author: Amanda Washington