Trans Fat on the Outs with Food Companies

Trans fats, those partially hydrogenated oils that raise bad cholesterol, are no longer popular with restaurants and supermarkets, a new study says.

Health-conscious consumers often worry that restaurants swap trans fats in products with other high-fat alternatives; however, a new study claims those fears can be put to rest.

A Harvard researcher and a consumer advocacy group analyzed 83 foods in restaurants and grocery stores before and after their selections were reformulated to cut the amount of trans fat, per federal guidelines enacted in 2006 requiring food labels to list the amount of trans fat in packaged products.

The study findings, which appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that the food industry has acted responsibly by replacing partially hydrogenated oils with more healthful oils.

Trans fat is found in many common foods, most notably chips, cakes, doughnuts and cookies. Previous research indicates that eating more than five grams of trans fat a day can increase the risk for heart disease and high cholesterol.

Although many were skeptical, the researchers found that almost all the food they analyzed in supermarkets and fast food chains was mostly or even completely free of trans fat. Even more surprising, many companies did not add hydrogenated oils or saturated fat when cutting trans fat: 65 percent of supermarket food and 90 percent of restaurant food had saturated fat levels that were lower, unchanged, or only slightly higher than before.

Other medical experts are quick to point out that just because the trans fat is gone doesn’t mean the food is healthy.

“Trans fat or not, a doughnut is still a doughnut,” Dr. David Heber, head of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, told the Associated Press. “Even Homer Simpson will back me up on that,” added Dr. Heber, who was not involved with the study.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily trans fat intake to less than 2 grams and limiting daily saturated fat intake to less than 16 grams of, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

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