Thanks to the FDA's Nationwide Trans-Fat Ban, French Fries Will Be Slightly Less Terrible for You

Starting June 1, restaurants across the nation will have to start phasing out hydrogenated oils.

Oreo Cookie Sundae at Applebee's. (Photo: Applebee's/Facebook)

Jun 2, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Josh Scherer has written for Epicurious, Thrillist, and Los Angeles magazine. He is constantly covered in corn chip crumbs.

From Oreo's deliciously hydrogenated cream filling to Popeyes' human-made, heart-clogging fry oil, the war against trans fats has been claiming victims for the better part of a decade. The term entered the national lexicon in 2003, when a California attorney filed a lawsuit against Kraft and Nabisco seeking an injunction in the sale of all their products containing trans fats, which came primarily in the form of hydrogenated oil. Both companies voluntarily removed all trans fats shortly after.

But the first piece of anti-trans-fat legislation didn't come until 2006, when then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned all New York City restaurants from using the harmful chemical in their food. One year later, Albany County in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco followed suit, and in 2008, California became the first state to ban trans fats in restaurants. Finally, on June 15, the FDA is initiating a nationwide prohibition.

"It's about time. Trans-fat is an artificial chemical. It never should have gotten into our food supply in the first place,” Dr. Thomas Farley, who was health commissioner under Bloomberg, told the New York Post this week. “It's toxic over the long term and it's easy to get rid of."

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Even though this is an unequivocal victory for American dietary health, the timing of the news is a bit ironic: On May 22, the Environmental Working Group analyzed 84,000 grocery store foods and found that 27 percent contained trans fats, even though only 2 percent listed them on the nutrition label. The disparity comes from an FDA loophole that allows companies to round down to zero if a food contains less than half a gram of trans fat per serving.

So, Why Should You Care? Diet-related diseases account for $71 billion in health care costs and claim the lives of an estimated 580,000 Americans each year, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Not only have trans fats been linked to raising LDL, more commonly known as bad cholesterol, but they’re also associated with lowering HDL—good cholesterol—putting people at risk for heart disease. The FDA decision to ban trans fats from restaurants outright is a big step toward eliminating them from the American diet entirely and, consequently, saving lives.

Most quick-serve restaurants have voluntarily phased out trans fats from their fry oils, which means most people are likely consuming them from grocery store items such as cake mixes, frostings, and microwavable popcorn. In light of the EWG's analysis, the FDA may have to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on hydrogenated oils in prepackaged foods for people to truly eliminate harmful trans fats from their diet.