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?
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 of the process: 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 For example, margarine was originally made by turning vegetable oil into a solid, so it was loaded with trans fats.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.
Trans fats are most commonly found in foods like frosting, pie crusts, microwave popcorn, biscuits, frozen pizza, refrigerated dough, coffee creamers, shortenings, and margarine; they give some foods a richer texture and mouthfeel, and are more shelf-stable than butter.
While trans fats will definitely make their way into fewer foods following the recent ban, food companies that want to use them will be permitted to petition the FDA for approval. So while this means that trans fats will still be found in the foods that petition the agency successfully, it’s a great start. Read on for five things you might not have known about these villainous fats.