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FDA to phase out trans fats by 2018 – so which foods will have to change?

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Food manufacturers have been given three years to yank all trans fat from human food products, the FDA ruled on Tuesday.

The substance, which grew in use after it was first introduced about 100 years ago in pie shortening, in the end was a "tragic story for the American diet," Dr. Steven Nissen, chair of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, told CNN.

Experts have cited “unequivocal evidence” that trans fats raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and reduce HDL (“good”) cholesterol, which can lead to damaged arteries and an increased risk of heart disease.

In 2013, the FDA made a preliminary ruling that trans fats are not “generally recognized as safe” for human consumption. The determination on Tuesday finalized that early ruling, giving companies 36 months to drop partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) from their offerings. Most trans fat in processed foods come from PHOs.

When the FDA required companies to list trans fat content on nutrition labels back in 2006, many food manufacturers voluntarily pulled PHOs from products rather than reveal their presence on the label. Thanks largely to that ruling, reports the Wall Street Journal, trans fat content in foods dropped an estimated 78 percent between 2003 and 2012.

Which foods contain trans fats?

In spite of this, trans fats still linger in certain foods, but in three years' time manufacturers will need special permission from the FDA to continue using them.

According to the Mayo Clinic, trans fats are still sometimes found in the following products:

  • Baked goods such as cakes, cookies, pie crusts and crackers can contain shortening, as can ready-made frosting.
  • Potato, corn and tortilla chips often contain trans fat, as do many types of packages and microwave popcorn.
  • Fried foods – such as french fries, doughnuts and chicken – where they are cooked in certain oils.
  • Dough kept in the refrigerator and used to make biscuits and sweet rolls can contain trans fat – the same goes for frozen pizza crusts and ready-made pancake batter.
  • Nondairy coffee creamer and stick margarine may contain PHOs.

The American Heart Association notes that manufacturers and fast food operators have used trans fats because they give foods a "desirable taste and texture" and last longer than other oils.

MN food firms not worried about the impact

The ban on trans fats has been opposed by certain groups in the U.S. food industry, but the biggest food producers in Minnesota said the impact on business won't be too big.

General Mills and Cargill told MPR that the process of complying with the FDA regulations is well underway, with Cargill saying that it has found substitutes for many of its food industry customers.

This has allowed more than 80 percent of its customers to remove trans fats from popcorn, frosting and icing by reformulating them "with some other functional alternative we have," a Cargill food scientist told the news station

General Mills told Bloomberg that it has reduced trans fats in 350 products since 2008, with 95 percent of its U.S. retail products are now labeled as having 0 grams of trans fats, though Bloomberg notes that its Betty Crocker and Pillsbury cake mixes and frosting still contain PHOs.

The Mayo Clinic notes that due to food labeling regulations, products that contain up to 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving can be labeled as having 0 grams.

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