Partially hydrogenated oils — the primary source of artificial trans fats in processed foods — are no longer “generally recognized as safe” for use in human food, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration decision announced June 16, 2015. Companies will have three years to remove these oils from their products. The ruling does not affect trans fats that naturally occur in dairy foods and meat from ruminant animals, which is not considered as much of a health concern.
The new ruling on industrial trans fats “was a long time coming, but is still very welcome because it means that consumers will no longer need to be concerned that this toxic substance may be hiding in their foods,” said Walter Willett, Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Researchers at the School have long advocated for the removal of artificial trans fats from the diet. Work by Willett and others has shown that consuming an excess of trans fats raises the risk of high blood lipid levels, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other illnesses. Harvard Chan School researchers estimate that eliminating industrial trans fats from the U.S. food supply could prevent up to 1 in 5 heart attacks and related deaths. That would mean a quarter of a million fewer heart attacks and related deaths each year in the United States alone.