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Trans Fat Levels Among U.S. Adults Continue to Fall

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by Judie Bizzozero -

Trans fats have been scrutinized  for years because they raise “bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower “good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, and have been shown to increase the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

The debate over trans fats was brought to light in 2005 when the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) recommended Americans limit their intake of fats and oils high in saturated and/or trans fatty acid to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. In 2006, FDA mandated food manufacturers to declare the trans fat content of foods on the Nutrition Facts labels of packaged food products. And in 2015, FDA determined partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary food manufacturing source of artificial trans fats, are not GRAS (generally recognized as safe) for foods, giving food and beverage manufacturers until June 18, 2018, to remove them entirely from their products.

The ban on PHOs has been a long time coming, and many companies reformulated products. In fact, FDA estimated trans fat has been reduced by 78 percent since 2003, while the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) puts that number at 86 percent. Nevertheless, PHOs are still commonly used in many processed food products, such as certain desserts, baked goods, microwave popcorn products, frozen pizzas, margarines, vegetable shortenings, snack foods, coffee creamers, refrigerated dough products and ready-to-use frostings.

A recent USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) study published in the American Journal of Public Health found American adults, on average, substantially reduced their intake of trans fats between two time points—1999-2000 and 2009-2010—which resulted in improvements in several cardiovascular health indicators.

Researchers examined data on blood plasma levels of trans fats of American adults ages 20 years and older between 1999 and 2010 who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The sum of four different types of trans fat were considered in the analysis, and two types were considered in isolation: one commonly found in PHOs, and another naturally occurring in ruminant animals and present in small quantities in dairy products.

To measure the difference in blood plasma levels of trans fats between the time periods, the study employed a model that controlled for changing demographic characteristics and lifestyle factors that could affect the amount of trans fats detected in the blood. Findings showed blood plasma levels of trans fats fell by 52.5 percent from 1999-2000 to 2009-2010. The decline in blood plasma levels of a type of trans fat often found in PHOs was greater (58.6 percent) than the decline in blood plasma levels of a trans fat often found in dairy products (51.3 percent).

Dietary fats are essential for good health, and they make key contributions to the physical composition of a vast range of food products. While trans and saturated fats and PHOs top the list of ingredients to avoid, certain fats and oils are making a comeback thanks to recent research, shifting consumer preferences and an increasing number of clean label alternatives that align with consumer demand for healthier options. The July issue of Food Insider Journal took a deep dive into the macro issue of consumer demand for healthier fats and oils and illustrated the market opportunity using the fast-growing sweet baked goods segment.

Looking for guidance on auditing your “clean label" supply chain, selecting appropriate substitute ingredients and cost considerations? Join us for the Clean Label Strategies and Formulation Considerations workshop on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at SupplySide West 2017.

Judie Bizzozero Judie BizzozeroEditor

Judie Bizzozero, editor, has more than 30 years’ experience as a professional journalist. She joined Virgo Publishing (now Informa Exhibitions) in 1988 as an associate editor and worked her way up to group editorial director of its Lifestyle Division. She moved over to the Health & Nutrition Network in 2008, where she reports on global market trends, science-based ingredients, strategy and formulation in the development of clean label food and beverage products. She graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.