By Tom Weselak, NOW Foods’ Quality Assurance
In July 2003, the FDA published a regulation requiring the labeling of trans fats in food products and dietary supplements. This regulation came after years of debate, with the initial proposal dating back to November 1999. This rule went into effect in January 2006, and since that time, all manufacturers are required to list the trans fat amount on their product labels, if present.
Trans fats (trans unsaturated fatty acids) are solid fats that are usually artificially produced by partial hydrogenation. Hydrogenation is the process in which hydrogen is added to vegetable oil. This process is done at elevated temperature and pressure to increase the amount of saturated fatty acids. This increase in saturated fatty acids makes the product more solid and stable at room temperature. Partial hydrogenation is performed, because complete hydrogenation would cause the product to become too solid and undesirable for use.
Trans fats are most often found in the artificial form in food products containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. These oils are most often found in margarine, vegetable shortening, crackers, candies, baked goods, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, salad dressings, and other processed foods. Margarines, for example, can contain between 11-49% trans fatty acids. Other foods high in trans fats are doughnuts, pastries, fried foods, and snack chips. These foods may contain between 35-38% trans fatty acids1. One doughnut may contain about 3 g of trans fats, while a large order of french fries may contain around 7 g4.
There are some naturally occurring trans fats that are actually healthy nutrients, such as beta-carotene, CoQ10, resveratrol, etc. These are not the same as synthetic trans fats (formed during partial hydrogenation) and pose no health concerns.
Although the use of partial hydrogenation is common practice among many food manufacturers, it has been shown that the consumption of these synthetic trans fats may lead to certain health risks. Scientific studies have shown that the consumption of trans fats, saturated fat, and dietary cholesterol can raise the level of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in the blood, as well as lower the level of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. This raised LDL and lowered HDL has been shown to increase one’s risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). An increase in LDL, often labeled “bad” cholesterol, can lead to the formation of arteriosclerosis and ultimately coronary heart disease. HDL, “good” cholesterol, has been shown to aid in the transport and removal of cholesterol from the arteries to the liver. Once in the liver, this cholesterol can be metabolized and eventually eliminated. Certain clinical studies also have shown that the consumption of manmade trans fats may be more detrimental and pose a greater risk to one’s health than consuming saturated fat. These trans fat may not metabolize as well in the body and may remain deposited in blood vessels. This concern over the potential health risks led to the issuing of the FDA regulation regarding trans fat labeling.
Since it has been shown that the consumption of trans fats may pose an increased health risk to individuals, the need for trans fat listing on labels was deemed necessary. This FDA food labeling regulation helps increase consumer awareness of foods high in trans fatty acids and allows health-conscious consumers the ability to choose more heart healthy food options. This is important since coronary heart disease (CHD) is a major health concern and a leading cause of death in the United States.
At NOW Foods, we do not use partial hydrogenation and we do not allow partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in any of our products. Therefore, all NOW food and dietary supplement products are free of these trans fats and the potential health risks associated with them. On our labels, if a product contains fat, you will always see that the amount of trans fat is listed at “0 g” or “not a significant source”. So, when selecting NOW products, you can be assured that you are choosing the healthy alternative.
2 FDA. 2003. FDA acts to provide better information to consumers on trans fats. Food and Drug Admin., July 9, 2003. http://www.fda.gov/oc/initiatives/transfat/backgrounder.html (accessed March, 2008)
3 FDA. 2004. Trans fat now listed with saturated fat and cholesterol on the nutrition
facts label. Food and Drug Admin., March 3, 2004 http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/transfat.html (accessed March, 2008)
Harvard School of Public Health. 1999. Trans fatty acids and coronary heart disease. Departments of Nutrition
; The Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, November 15, 1999. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/
(accessed March, 2008)