FDA Moves Toward Total Ban on Trans Fats

Processed foods targeted in FDA action

trans fat label

The Food and Drug Administration has taken a major first step in requiring all food manufacturers to eventually phase out artificial trans fat from their products, particularly processed foods.

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The agency has made a primary determination that partially hydrogenated oils, the source of trans fat in processed foods, are no longer “generally recognized as safe.” In a 60-day process the FDA will accept comments from food manufacturers on the length of time it may take them to eliminate trans fat from all their products. Then the agency will make its final determination.

The agency estimates eliminating trans fat from the U.S. food supply will prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease in this country each year.

Trans fat promotes development of heart disease

Cleveland Clinic cardiologist David Frid, MD, applauds the FDA action, saying, “Trans fat is one of several risk factors that promote the development of heart disease. They are particularly effective in causing clogged arteries because they both raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol.”

“Trans fatty acids are added to processed foods as an inexpensive way to improve taste and texture and lengthen shelf life,” Dr. Frid says. “But there are other ways of doing this that don’t directly promote the development of heart disease.”

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Trans fat still found in many processed foods

Though trans fat consumption has dropped dramatically over the past decade due to heightened public awareness of its health risks, it’s still found in many processed foods including:

  • Baked goods including crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies
  • Frozen pizza
  • Liquid or powdered coffee creamers, typically flavored versions
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Refrigerated dough products such as cinnamon rolls and biscuits
  • Margarine and vegetable shortenings
  • Peanut butter
  • Yogurt-covered fruits and nuts

‘No safe amount’ of trans fat

Cleveland Clinic dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, agrees the FDA made a “very smart choice” to ban trans fat.

“There is no safe amount of trans fat to consume and it’s not a necessary fat. There’s no need for it in our diet,” says Ms. Patton. “People with high cholesterol who currently eat foods containing trans fat could see a positive impact on cholesterol levels once these fats are removed from the picture.” 

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“If you have not paid attention to trans fat in the past it is never too late to start, since it may take some time to implement this ban,” she says.

Ms. Patton urges consumers to continue to read nutrition facts labels to see if foods contain trans fat.

“Be aware that manufacturers are allowed to label foods with 0 grams trans fat even if it has up to 0.5 grams trans fat per serving,” she says. “Be sure to read the ingredients list and avoid foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils — partially hydrogenated soybean oil or partially cotton seed oil.”

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