The Food and Drug Administration recently announced that they’ve decided to no longer classify trans fats in their “generally recognized as safe” category, requiring food companies to phase them out over the next three years because they’ve been officially recognized as a threat to public health. But what exactly are trans fats, anyway, and which foods will be the most affected by their loss?
To describe exactly how trans fats are formed and work in the human body would be far more complicated than what we’re capable of explaining, but here’s a brief overview: When hydrogen is added to vegetable oil in order to make it solid (a process called partial hydrogenation), trans fats form. For example, margarine was originally made by turning vegetable oil into a solid, so it was loaded with trans fats. Any time you see partially hydrogenated oil (usually soybean) on an ingredient list, that indicates the presence of trans fats.
Since 2006, the FDA has required all nutrition labels to disclose the presence of trans fats, but these don’t give the whole picture. Companies are only required to list trans fat if there’s more than half a gram, so the only real way to know if a food product contains trans fat is to look at the ingredient list and see if it contains any partially hydrogenated oils.
Partially hydrogenated oil increases shelf life and decreases refrigeration requirements, and it’s much less expensive than butter or lard, which is also used in baking to suspend solids in fat at room temperature. There are lots of reason why trans fats are used in the processed food industry, but just one reason why they shouldn’t be used: they can kill you. Read on for five foods that will never be exactly the same once trans fats are banned.