The controversy surrounding trans fats has very little to do with their existence; after all, trans fats exist in nature in small amounts. What's really troubling is that they have continued to exist in the food supply for years, even when their negative health effects were widely known.  Fortunately, trans fats are finally being phased out of all foods in the United States, bringing us one step closer to a healthier nation. While we still have a long way to go, it creates hope to know that public health is finally being valued.
What is Trans Fats and Why is it Bad?
Trans fat first came on the scene as a replacement for saturated fats in processed foods. Since saturated fats were more costly and some research linked it with heart disease, food industry engineers got to work. Stiff saturated fats like lard, tallow, and coconut oil provide a different texture in comparison with items made with unsaturated oils. Trans fats are essentially natural plant oils put through a mechanical and chemical process to produce oil that is similar to saturated fats in stability and structure. What they didn't know at the time was that trans fat is actually far worse than saturated fat, and research over the past few decades has verified this time and time again. Trans fat is linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and a host of other ills.  You can generally tell if a food has saturated fat by reading the ingredients label. If it lists "partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil" or simply the term "hydrogenated," you're guaranteed you'll be consuming trans fat.
The Trans Fat Ban
Trans fat has been banned already by some countries, cities, and communities. New York City, for example, banned trans fat in the city's restaurants in 2007, and Denmark banned all partially-hydrogenated fat in 2003.  The FDA has finally come around to banning them outright throughout the entire country, phasing them out completely by 2017. Estimates from the FDA suggests it will cost the food industry $6.2 billion in the next 20 years to reformulate recipes without trans fat, but the expense will be worth it in terms of health. 
Beware: Trans Fat Alternatives Aren't Much Better
While the trans fat ban is certainly good news, simply swapping them out for trans fat alternatives doesn't necessarily equate to healthy eating. Most foods that already contain trans fat are processed, refined, and high in sugar or other harmful ingredients. Even if processed foods don't use trans fat, there are other issues associated with them that contribute to specific health consequences. All natural, whole, and unprocessed foods do not contain man-made trans fats, nor do they contain any other additive or chemically-altered ingredient. So, if you're sticking with what nature provides, you'll be sure to consume far less (or virtually none at all) trans fat in your diet than you would if you were consuming processed or restaurant-prepared foods.
What are your thoughts on the latest trans fat ban? We'd love to hear your opinions in the comments!
- Remig V, Franklin B, Margolis S, et al. Trans fats in America: a review of their use, consumption, health implications, and regulation. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Apr;110(4):585-92. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.12.024.
- Kavanagh K, Jones KL, Sawyer J, et al. Trans fat diet induces abdominal obesity and changes in insulin sensitivity in monkeys. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Jul;15(7):1675-84.
- New York City Health. Phase Out Artificial Trans Fat In New York City Food Service Establishments. Take Care Network.
- FDA. FDA Cuts Trans Fat in Processed Foods. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.