66% of foods containing trans-fats have been reformulated, but progress is slowing: Harvard study

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66% of foods containing trans-fats have been reformulated, but progress is slowing: Harvard study

66% of foods containing trans-fats have been reformulated, but progress is slowing: Harvard study
May 24
10:34 2013

Industry efforts to reduce and/or remove trans fats from food products have led to progress, but this progress is slowing, and the industry must continue its effort to reformulate, says a new report from Harvard School of Public Health.

Despite progress being made, data published in Preventing Chronic Disease indicated “many products remain in the food supply that contain substantial amounts of [industrially-produced trans fatty acids].

“Because [trans fatty acid] consumption is harmful even at low levels, our results emphasize the need for continued major efforts and commitment toward reformulating (or discontinuing) foods to eliminate [partially hydrogenated vegetable oils], with particular focus on certain food categories and companies.”

The issue

Trans fats have been attractive for the food industry due to their extended shelf life and flavor stability, and have displaced natural solid fats and liquid oils in many areas of food processing.

However, scientific evidence mounted to show they raise levels of LDL (so-called ‘bad’) cholesterol, while lowering levels of HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, thereby clogging arteries and causing heart disease.

Some data indicates that trans fat consumption has decreased by 58% in the United States over the past decade, as some cities and regions have instigated bans, and the federal government has required labeling of the fat.

While progress is being made, this progress has slowed in recent years, according to the new report.


These conclusions are based on a sampling of brand name products followed between 2007 and 2011.

Led by Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, from the Harvard School of Public Health, the researchers examined the evolution of 360 products that contained 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving in 2007. Ninety products were discontinued after 2007, allowing data to be collected for 270 products.

The results showed that, by 2011, the trans fat content had been reduced in 178 (66%) of the 270 products. Progress mostly occurred between 2007 and 2008, when the average trans-fat content decreased by 30%, said the report, whereas reductions of only 3.4% were seen between 2010 and 2011.

On average, the largest overall gram-per-serving declines were seen for doughnuts, crackers, and pies, wrote Dr Mozaffarian and his co-workers.  The smallest percentage declines were seen for rolls, margarines, and microwave popcorns.

While progress has been made for some popcorn brands – Pop Weaver has eliminated it in all of its microwave popcorn, and Orville Redenbacher has eliminated it in all but two varieties – on average, popcorn products had the most artificial trans-fat between 2007 and 2011, with 4.5 grams per serving in 2007 and with 3.8 grams per serving in 2011.

Indeed, Pop Secret’s Butter Popcorn still has 5 grams of artificial trans fat per serving: This one serving would have more trans fat than the American Heart Association recommends one consume over the course of five days.

Parent company progress

Dr Mozaffarian and his co-workers also examined which companies made the most progress. The greatest percentage declines were achieved by Cole’s Quality Foods, which makes frozen garlic bread and breadsticks, Schwan Food Company, which makes frozen pies and pizza, and Tasty Baking Company, which makes Tastykake baked goods.

On the other hand, the smallest declines were seen in foods made by American Pies (with reductions of trans fat of only 3%), Giant Foods, and ConAgra Foods.


Another solution could be for the FDA to declare that partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is no longer ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS), which would place limits on the presence of industrially produced trans fats in foods, they said. Countries such as Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, and Switzerland have already taken such action.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the consumer advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), said: “Artificial trans fat wreaks havoc on Americans’ metabolism and blood chemistry, something the FDA has known for 15 years.

“The FDA could solve this problem once and for all, and save thousands of lives, with the stroke of a pen.  This study clearly indicates that some food companies simply can’t be relied upon to get rid of trans fat on their own.”

Source: Preventing Chronic Disease
2013, Volume 10, 120198, doi: 10.5888/pcd10.120198
“Trends in Trans Fatty Acids Reformulations of US Supermarket and Brand-Name Foods From 2007 Through 2011”
Authors: F.O. Otite, M.F. Jacobson, A. Dahmubed, D. Mozaffarian

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