trans fat ban, noted that “government-sponsored research led to the understanding that a product considered safe for about 100 years was shown to be the most harmful fat in the food supply.”
Lest there be any doubt as to the value of banning trans fats, recent studies have demonstrated a remarkable benefit to the hearts and lives of residents in places where governments restricted the use of partially hydrogenated oils years ago.
Denmark was the first to act, banning trans fats from food products and virtually eliminating them from that country’s food supply in 2004. Within three years, the ban had saved an average of 14.2 lives per 100,000 people a year, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Starting in 2007 in New York City, New York state pioneered trans fat bans in this country. Scientists from the agency and Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, analyzed death rates in New York counties that forbid artificially produced trans fats in food sold in restaurants and bakeries. When death rates in these counties were compared with those in similar areas without a ban, the researchers found that restricting trans fats resulted in 13 fewer cardiovascular disease deaths and a saving of about $3.9 million per 100,000 persons annually.
A more recent study showed a comparable decline in cardiovascular disease rates as well. By comparing counties with and without a trans fat ban in food service establishments, Dr. Eric J. Brandt, a cardiovascular disease fellow at Yale University School of Medicine, found that three or more years later, heart attacks declined by 7.8 per cent and strokes by 3.6 per cent in counties with the ban over and above what occurred in counties without a ban, though the stroke numbers were not statistically significant.
In an interview, Brandt noted that many manufacturers have substituted palm oil, which is high in saturated fat, for partially hydrogenated oils. He said, “Even when saturated fat is used in place of trans fat, there’s still a net benefit,” although a heartsmart consumer should avoid too much saturated fat, including palm and coconut oil.
Brandt became interested in trans fats as a student at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. In 2011 he published a paper pointing out misleading labelling practices that could result in people unwittingly consuming harmful levels of trans fats, a finding still relevant today. FDA labelling rules allow manufacturers to list as zero any amount of trans fat less than half a gram per serving. So, someone who consumes only three servings a day of foods that each contain 0.49 grams of trans fats would quickly exceed that 0.5 gram level.
“There really is no safe level for artificially produced trans fat,” Brandt said. “It’s best to avoid all products that have any partially hydrogenated oils.” He noted, however, that less is better. Canada, among other countries, lists trans fats down to a level of 0.1 gram per serving and he wondered why the United States doesn’t do likewise.
Complicating the trans fat picture is the fact that there are natural sources of this substance, found in meats and dairy products derived from ruminant animals — cows, sheep and goats.
“The jury is still out as to whether these are a hazard; the data are not clear about what natural trans fat means from a health standpoint,” Brandt said. He added, however, that “cardiologists mainly endorse a plantbased diet as the healthiest option.”
Denmark was the first to act, banning trans fats from food products and virtually eliminating them from that country’s food supply in 2004.