FDA moving to ban trans fat from processed foods

Many Maryland companies have switched already

November 07, 2013|By Lorraine Mirabella, The Baltimore Sun

After buying Fractured Prune Doughnuts in January, Dan Brinton switched to an oil without trans fats to fry the chain's hand-dipped glazed doughnuts.

"It's a little more expensive, but it's certainly worth it as far as I'm concerned," said Brinton, CEO of the growing Ocean City-based chain, on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, the Food and Drug Administration moved to virtually eliminate trans fat, an artificially created artery-clogging substance, from Americans' diets. The move follows a massive effort by food makers and restaurant chains to remove the substance over the past decade, as consumers become more educated about risks and vote for healthier alternatives with their wallets.

The still preliminary proposal by the FDA "has been on the radar for the last six years," Brinton said. "We anticipated this was coming. We were going to do it, and we did it. I'm not opposed to the ban."

And the Fractured Prune's ringed delicacies still melt in your mouth, he said. "It did not change our taste profile."

The FDA has required that nutritional labels break out trans fat content since 2006, a regulation that spurred many companies to alter their recipes.

Trans fats, still used in a number of products from margarine and coffee creamer to frozen pizza, remain a big risk for Americans despite lower consumption over the past 20 years. The primary source of trans fats in the American diet comes from partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fat is produced when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid. Partially hydrogenated oils have been used widely as ingredients since the 1950s, the FDA said.

"While consumption of potentially harmful artificial trans fat has declined over the last two decades in the United States, current intake remains a significant public health concern," said Dr. Margaret Hamburg, an FDA commissioner.

Trans fats are used mostly for texture and stability — they allow products to last longer on the shelf, preserve flavor, give flakiness to crusts and biscuits and keep peanut butter from separating.

But "trans fats ... may be the worst fats for our heart and overall health," said Alison Massey, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator for Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

Trans fats tend to increase bad cholesterol levels, contributing to the buildup of plaque in the arteries and increasing risk for cardiovascular disease, she said.

"I encourage all my patients to consume a diet that is trans-fat-free," Massey said. "There are no benefits to incorporating this particular type of fat into the diet."

The FDA believes that further reduction in the amount of trans fat in Americans' diets could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths a year. The agency has opened a 60-day review period to collect additional data before it moves to ban trans fats. The ban likely would be a gradual process with full compliance expected within a few years.

The FDA says Americans' consumption of trans fats has declined almost 80 percent in the past decade thanks to broader education about their risks, voluntary reduction by food manufacturers and restaurants and some local bans, like New York City's in 2007.

A proposal that would have banned trans fats in Illinois failed in 2011. California became the first state to require restaurants to stop cooking with trans fats in 2008. In Maryland, Montgomery County banished trans fats from prepared foods in 2007, followed by Baltimore city the next year

Safeway made the switch to trans-fat-free bakeries and prepared food several years ago in all its stores, said Greg Ten Eyck, a spokesman. That applies to all the goods baked at Safeway bakeries, such as cakes, cookies and pies, and to items sold in the delicatessen, such as fried chicken, he said.

"We'd seen a lot of jurisdictions were taking a look at banning trans fats," Ten Eyck said. "For health purposes, we looked into alternatives for trans fats, which took a while. Health and wellness is an important principal at Safeway."

Giant Food, the Baltimore area's largest grocer, said its "future actions will be determined by the FDA's final decision" regarding partially hydrogenated oils, said Jamie Miller, a spokesman.

Many restaurants in the state have made a switch to trans-fat-free frying oil, said Melvin Thompson, senior vice president for government affairs and public policy for the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

"The only challenges that have remained have been the trans fats used in baked goods, because there have been some challenges with substitute ingredients that retain the same quality, texture and shelf life," he said. "Most of our industry has already started using alternative products."

Mondelez International, a Deerfield, Ill.,-based baker that makes snacks under dozens of brand names including Oreo cookies, Wheat Thins, Triscuits, Fig Newtons and Nilla Wafers, deferred comment to the Grocery Manufacturer's Association, a trade group.

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