The Food and Drug Administration Tuesday ordered trans fats out of the food supply and gave manufacturers three years to eliminate the artery-damaging compounds, a move health officials say will prevent 20,000 heart attacks annually nationwide.
Enacting the ban had been long promised by the Obama administration, and comes nine years after the 2006 trans-fat ban in New York City, the first in the country.
Trans fats are derived from vegetable oils that food manufacturers transform into solids, similar to the consistency of margarine or lard. They're listed on product labels as partially hydrogenated fats and hydrogenated fats.
The FDA's new ruling, which is considered final, also revokes its classification of "generally recognized as safe" for partially hydrogenated fats, the key source of trans fats in processed foods.
Moving forward, trans fats are to be designated as food additives, and the FDA must authorize any future use. Although the fats have been removed from a vast number of prepared foods, FDA officials said Tuesday that the compounds still can be found on grocery aisles in numerous products: cake frostings, microwave popcorn and frozen pizza.
Removing them from the food supply can eliminate about 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 premature deaths annually, agency officials said yesterday.
"Definitely a good move," said Nancy Copperman, director of public health initiatives at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Great Neck. Copperman, a registered dietitian, said manufacturers can easily remove trans fats from processed foods.
"A lot of times these fats are hidden and consumers don't know they're there. Now we can have a uniform standard throughout the country," Copperman said, noting that it's "the alteration process that makes trans fats atherogenic," or cause arterial plaque, she said. "That's the reason they've been linked to heart disease."
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg remains a vocal opponent of the artificial additives designed to enhance "creaminess on the tongue" as well as to preserve product shelf life.
Speaking Tuesday during a news conference at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., Bloomberg said when New York City lawmakers began their push against trans fats, the move was viewed as controversial.
"But as soon as New Yorkers understood that taking trans fats out . . . didn't impact the way their favorite foods tasted, and restaurant owners understood that the ban didn't hurt business, the measure was widely accepted," he said.
Virtually all nutrition and heart experts saw cardiac benefits resulting from the ban.
"It's good news," said Joseph Debe, a Manhasset nutritionist in private practice who has long opposed the artificial fats. "I have been warning people about trans fats for 20 years."
Debe said the fats increase the so-called bad form of cholesterol, LDL, and decrease the good form, HDL.
Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of the Center for Women and Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, said trans fats are also inextricably linked to the obesity and diabetes epidemics. She said the ban suggests government health officials have finally realized the role the fats have played in both conditions.
"This is groundbreaking and really acknowledges that what we eat affects our health. I am really excited about this," Steinbaum said.