Heart-clogging trans fats were once a staple of the American diet, plentiful in baked goods, microwave popcorn and fried foods. Now, mindful of the health risks, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is getting rid of what is left of them for good.
Condemning artificial trans fats as a threat to public health, the FDA announced on Thursday it would require the food industry to phase them out.
Manufacturers have already eliminated many trans fats, responding to criticism from the medical community and to local laws.
Even so, the FDA said getting rid of the rest — the average American still eats about a gram of trans fat a day — could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths each year.
It will not happen right away. The agency will collect comments for two months before determining a phase-out timetable.
Different foods may have different schedules, depending how easy it is to find substitutes.
“We want to do it in a way that doesn’t unduly disrupt markets,” FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor said.
Still, he said, the food “industry has demonstrated that it is, by and large, feasible to do.”
Indeed, so much has already changed that most Americans will not notice much difference, if any, in food they get at groceries or restaurants.
A handful of other countries have banned trans fats, including Switzerland and Denmark. Other countries have enacted strict labeling laws.
Scientists say there are no health benefits to trans fats and they can raise levels of so-called “bad” cholesterol and lower “good” cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease — the leading cause of death in the US.
Trans fats are widely considered the worst kind for your heart, even worse than saturated fats, which can also contribute to heart disease.
Trans fats are used both in processed food and in restaurants, often to improve the texture, shelf life or flavor of foods.
Though they have been removed from many items, the fats are still found in some baked goods, such as pie crusts and biscuits, and in ready-to-eat frostings that use the more-solid fats to keep consistency.
They are also sometimes used by restaurants for frying. Many larger chains have phased them out, but smaller restaurants may still get food containing trans fats from suppliers.