Safe Intake of Trans Fatty Acids: Zero
A new report issued by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences states that there is no known safe intake amount of trans fatty acids in the diet. This announcement may lead to food labels that list the amount of trans fatty acids in food so consumers can better understand the potential health risks associated with a particular food product.
Trans fatty acids are partially saturated (also called “partially hydrogenated”) fats that do not occur naturally in foods, except in small quantities in some dairy products. They are produced during the processing of unsaturated oils such as soybean oil and corn oil. Trans fatty acids are found in margarine, shortening, and foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. The partial hydrogenation process contributes to the food’s texture (usually creamy) and spreadability and increases its shelf life.
In the past couple of decades, concerns over the health risks of trans fatty acids have surfaced. Studies show that these fats elevate total cholesterol levels, decrease high-density lipoprotein (“good”) cholesterol, and interfere with essential fatty acids and with the liver’s detoxification system. There is circumstantial evidence that consuming trans fatty acids may increase the risk of developing heart disease or cancer.
The Institute of Medicine’s report is the result of a petition filed in 1994 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest requesting that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) require food manufacturers to list trans fatty acids as part of the "Nutrition Facts" on food labels. While saturated and unsaturated fat amounts are currently listed, trans fatty acid specifications are not required in product labeling.
The FDA delayed making a final decision until an expert panel of the Institute of Medicine concluded their evaluation of trans fatty acids and released their official report. In light of this report, the FDA will likely follow the expert panel’s recommendations and require that all food manufacturers disclose the amount of trans fatty acids in their products. However, no regulations regarding trans fatty acids labeling have been issued yet by the FDA.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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