When the Food and Drug Administration announced last week its intention to ban trans fats in food, they gave momentum to a trend that began about two decades ago. Many forward thinking scientists have warned about the dangers of this artificial substance in our food and the increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Trans fats and health, what do you know? T or F? 1. Trans fats are found in Crisco and Oreos. 2. Trans fats raise bad cholesterol levels. 3. Trans fats are easily eliminated from the body. Fats can be divided into two types: unsaturated and saturated. Monounsaturated fats such as canola, soybean, olive and peanut oils are considered health promoting. Saturated fats such as in meats are unhealthful. Trans fats are manufactured from unsaturated fats but the body seems to reacts to them as if they were saturated fats. Bad news. Hence the health problem. The FDA commissioner has stated that trans fats “are not generally recognized as safe for use in food.” Trans fats, mercifully short for trans-isomer fatty acids, are manufactured in a process that adds hydrogen to fats and oils (usually soybean oil) called hydrogenation. This is a process designed to make fats seem less greasy, more stable (longer shelf life), solid at room temperature and easily meltable during cooking. Think pie crusts, cookies, crackers, microwave popcorn and deep frying. Trans fats don't become rancid as anyone who has found an old box of crackers in the back of their pantry can attest. Still good months after purchase. Trans fats in margarine allow us to take it out of the refrigerator and immediately spread it on bread, avoiding the softening time as with butter. Crisco was formulated when hydrogen was added to cottonseed oil creating a stable fat substance that replaced lard for baking and cooking in 1911. Crisco stopped adding trans fats to its product in January 2007. Restaurants use trans fats in fryers because it can be used repeatedly. McDonald's stopped using trans fats in their famous fries in 2003. The human body does not seem to be able to process trans fats effectively. Just why adding hydrogen would be such a detriment is unknown. Trans fats raise the levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides, lower the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and increase inflammation. This leads to increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Although early warning about the dangers of trans fats began to emerge in the 1950s it wasn't until the 1990s that serious discussion began. The American Heart Association and many public health groups advise consumers to check labels for the words “trans fats” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils” and avoid these foods. It is more difficult to know what we are eating at our favorite restaurants. New York City banned trans fats in restaurants in 2006 and many other cities have followed. Kansas City does not have such a ban. Our consumption of trans fats comes with enormous personal and public costs. The CDC estimates that 7,000 deaths and 20,000 heart attacks would be prevented annually by a ban on trans fats. The FDA ban, were it to come to that, would not be in place for a few years. Until then check out your food labels. If you see “partially hydrogenated oil” find a substitute. For Oreo eaters (I found another one of my husband's stashes, this time in the laundry room) not to worry. Kraft stopped using trans fats after a 2003 lawsuit in California. The calories are another issue. Answer 1. F; 2. T; 3. F.

Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill can be contacted at lori.boyajian-oneill@hcahealthcare.com.