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Boston College Expert: Proposed Trans Fat Ban

office of news & public affairs

Sheila Tucker

Sheila Tucker
Dietitian & Nutritionist
office: 617-552-2176
cell: 781-985-5798


Sheila Tucker is an executive dietitian and nutritionist at Boston College. She is a lecturer in BC's Connell School of Nursing and the Woods College of Advancing Studies. She has more than 25 years experience as both a clinician and educator in nutrition. She is board certified as a specialist in sports nutrition and a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and its Sports and Cardiovascular Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. Tucker is the primary author of the textbook Nutrition and Diet Therapy for Nurses (Pearson).



NOVEMBER 8, 2013

What will a ban on trans fats mean for the average person?

TUCKER: Consumers will be better protected against the unnecessary risks of consuming trans fats and the resultant increased risk of coronary heart disease with no effort on their part - these fats are in manufactured and restaurant foods so it is a no-effort change for the consumer. Many consumers are unaware of the risks of consuming partially hydrogenated fats (which is what trans fats are)  - especially at amounts that slip under the radar of needing to be listed on the Nutrition Fact Panel but can accumulate over the day and exceed the limits recommended for intake. There is no established health need for these fats; the less the better. Consumers will see some manufactured food products reformulated and some might disappear if the manufacturer cannot reformulate. Restaurants that use a hydrogenated fat for frying or making desserts will have to find alternatives. The consumer will probably not even notice the change or may not have known they were being fed a 'bad' fat in the first place! 


What do trans fats do to the body?

TUCKER: Trans fats are fats that started out as a 'good' oil, but then are industrially altered to become harder at room temperature through a process called hydrogenation that can help the manufactured food have a longer shelf life or an altered texture that is desired. As a result of these changes, the fat slips down a slippery slope and become a version that goes from 'good' to 'bad' because the hydrogenated version fosters an increase in 'bad' or LDL-cholesterol and a decrease in 'good' or HDL-cholesterol, risk factors for coronary heart disease. There is also research that these fats cause an inflammatory response that contributes to heart disease risk, plus are associated with insulin resistance, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.


The FDA expects this proposal to prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease a year. It really goes to show the effect trans fats have on the body.

TUCKER:  A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine way back in 2006 warned us that a 2% increase in energy (calories) from trans fat translated into a 23% increase in risk of coronary heart disease. Recommendations are to have fewer than 2% of total calories (or as little as possible) from trans fats. This means that a person consuming 2000 calories a day ought to have only 20 calories (or about 2gm) of trans fats as a maximum. It was great that labeling regulations changed to require that trans fats be listed on food labels. But, if the amount of trans fats in a product is under 0.5 gm in a serving, the manufacturer is permitted to list the amount present as zero - which is inaccurate for some foods; a few .05 gm servings easily add up.  It is easy to imagine how one might accumulate an easy 2 gm of trans fats in foods from products labels as containing zero gm of trans fat that really have just under .05 gm in a serving. For example, if one commercial bakery cookie is listed as zero gm but in reality  is just shy of 0.5 gm and you eat two cookies (who doesn't?), you are half way to exceeding the recommended limit. Four cookies and you are there! Nothing good to be said here.


What kind of foods can we expect to change as a result of the new rules?

TUCKER:  Trans fats are in commercial bakery foods, bakery mixes (like cake and brownie mixes for the home), some margarines, and some restaurant fry oils. It lurks where you see 'partially hydrogenated oils' listed in the ingredient list - even if the label says zero trans fats; they are sneaking in under the limit of 0.5gm in a serving, but they are there if the 'hydrogenated' word is there!


New York City has had a trans fat ban since 2007 while this year, the World Health Organization called for the elimination of trans fats from the global food supply. It seems the momentum is growing.

TUCKER: The idea for a ban has been long-pushed by the American Heart Association (AHA) and others such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest; this idea is not a new one. Denmark banned trans fats and was ahead of the curve.  The AHA initiated discussion with the food manufacturers almost five years ago to address ways to decrease trans fats in manufactured foods. Some manufacturers have moved towards decreasing trans fats while others still have trans fat content that needs modifying; part of the challenge is that the trans fats chemically offer a more shelf-stable product than other types of fats and they are cheap. Reduced ingredient cost to the manufacturer and increased shelf life drives the choices that are made by food businesses, but at a cost to the health of the consumer as evidenced here. 


Media Note: For assistance or to request a source on another topic, please contact Sean Hennessey, BC Office of News & Public Affairs: 617-552-3630 (o); (617) 943-4323 (c)

Contact information for additional Boston College faculty sources on a range of subjects is available at: /offices/pubaf/journalist/experts.html

Sean Hennessey
Associate Director
Office of News and Public Affairs
Boston College

(617) 552-3630 (office)
(617) 943-4323 (cell)