The Truth About Trans Fats

dr_duane_graveline_m.d._134By Duane Graveline, MD, MPH

In November, 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it would begin a process that would take artificial trans fats entirely out of the food supply, a move hailed as "lifesaving" by many health experts. Those in the field of public health have known for years that there really is no safe level of consumption of trans fat.

This is part of the FDA statement on trans fat. “Based on new scientific evidence and the findings of expert scientific panels, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has tentatively determined that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), which are the primary dietary source of industrially-produced transfatty acids, or trans fat, are not generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for any use in food based on current scientific evidence establishing the health risks associated with the consumption of trans fat, and therefore that PHOs are food additives.”

In June of 2015, the FDA confirmed that they were giving trans fats a designation of “not generally recognized as safe” and that all trans fats were to be removed from processed foods within three years.

Dr. Fred Kummerow, a biochemist and food scientist, has worked in the field of nutrition for over 70 years. He began documenting his concerns about the negative effects of trans fats in 1957 and continues to work on the dietary prevention of heart disease at the age of 101. His book is titled “Cholesterol is Not the Culprit, A Guide to Preventing Heart Disease.”

Dr. Kummerow, has devoted almost his entire working life to lipid research and for decades has petitioned the FDA to take action on this matter. The action taken by the FDA is long overdue. Although the FDA neglected to mention Dr. Fred Kummerow in their decision to ban all trans fats in the US, there is no doubt that the decades of work of this internationally renowned lipidologist played a major role in their decision.

Dr. Kummerow adds, “Perhaps the FDA will in due course be courageous enough to acknowledge the overwhelming weight of evidence and go to the root of the matter and prohibit not just trans fats but the partial hydrogenation process that generates trans fats. Their present action will benefit only the citizens of the US. The populations of the rest of the world, particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America, will continue to be exposed to higher levels of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats) leading to increased cardiovascular deaths.” 

Trans fats have been popular with food companies that make processed foods and snacks and in the restaurant industry since the 1950’s. For the processed food industry, partially hydrogenated oils (which contain trans fats) are easier to ship as they are in solid form, help give the desired texture and have an extended shelf life. For restaurants, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils could be used repeatedly at higher temperatures and for a lot longer than other oils.

Current FDA rules say that a product claiming to have "zero trans fat" can actually contain up to a half gram per serving and still be labelled as containing zero trans fat. It should be noted that products like potato chips — and other processed foods and snacks using partially hydrogenated oil — are often eaten more than one serving at a time, greatly increasing the amount of trans fat consumed.

The average consumer would not be aware of this, thinking that a product marked as “zero trans fat” would contain none at all. The consumer would also likely not know that tons and tons of oxycholesterol containing dried milk and eggs go into our foodstuffs.

The pharmaceutical industry is allowed to profit enormously from the sale of cholesterol-lowering drugs prescribed for people for whom cholesterol is not the problem. The real problem is inflammation in blood vessels from trans fats, oxycholesterol and homocysteine.   

In the infamous rabbit and atherosclerosis study of 1955, rabbits were fed food pellets laced with oxycholesterol and, as a result, went on to develop rampant atherosclerosis. The researchers thought they were adding cholesterol but it only takes a few hours of exposure to air to convert the innocent cholesterol into toxic oxycholesterol.

So what do you think dried milk and eggs contain? It took Kilmer McCully to reveal this years later when it first began to appear that natural cholesterol was innocent of all charges. According to Harvard Medical School, The New England Journal of Medicine and the Nurses' Health Study involving more than 120,000 nurses, trans fats are far worse even than the oxidized cholesterol from dried milk and eggs when it comes to heart disease.

So the FDA has finally done what could have been done decades ago, for the information on which this action was based has been available throughout this entire period of time. By 2018, trans fats should no longer be in U.S. foodstuffs as food companies and restaurant suppliers formulate alternatives.

But what of the past? As partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats continue to be removed from supermarket foods, think over the years of the number of portions of crackers, cookies, biscuits, chips, cakes and baked goods you have consumed, many carrying a 0.5 gm dose of atherosclerosis-provoking trans fats when it could so easily have been zero with no alteration in taste.

Duane Graveline MD MPH
Former USAF Flight Surgeon
Former NASA Astronaut
Retired Family Doctor

Updated January 2016

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