Trans fat is used to improve the flavor and shelf life of commercially prepared foods, including doughnuts.
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The Food and Drug Administration’s move to ban trans fats is promising for the residents of Toledo and the rest of Ohio, whose health statistics are troublesome.
Trans fats raise “bad” cholesterol, lower “good” cholesterol, clog arteries, make them more rigid, and cause resistance to insulin. They increase the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, and contribute to type 2 diabetes.
Further, high consumption of the fats may contribute to a higher incidence of death from any cause, according to a report published this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In its 2011 Lucas County Health Assessment, the latest year for such figures, the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio found that 21 percent of county residents over age 65 had heart disease, 47 percent had high blood cholesterol, and 24 percent had diabetes.
In 2006-08, heart disease was the leading cause of death in Lucas County, and diabetes, the sixth leading cause of death.
This is on top of the Trust for America’s health report in August, which found that adult weight statistics show Ohio is the 13th most obese state in the nation. Michigan is fatter — at No. 10.
Trans fat is produced by adding hydrogen to oil to make it more solid, resulting in products such as shortening and margarine. The partially hydrogenated oil is used to improve the texture, flavor, and shelf life of commercially prepared foods ranging from cookies, crackers, and doughnuts to cake mixes and frozen foods.
New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg is credited with starting the local pressure to ban trans fats from restaurant food in 2006. That move was successful and spread to other localities such as Philadelphia and California.
The medical community and nutrition watchdogs began alerting the public to the fat’s dangers several decades ago. Food nutrition labels started identifying trans fat under government mandate in 2006.
Many consumers appear ready for further action. The FDA announcement has not yet prompted an outcry from “nanny state” critics.
Some other government attempts to encourage healthy eating are also moving ahead.
In the 2014-15 school year, Agriculture Department rules will ban junk foods and support healthier options in the nation’s schools.
Trans fats were once touted for making margarine a healthy alternative to butter and saturated fats.
In the 1980s, most fast-food companies switched to trans fats for frying to replace beef tallow and tropical oils high in saturated fats.
By the 1990s, however, research studies were linking trans fats to heart disease. Corporate food giants started to remove the fats from products and fast-food meals.
Some manufactured products, however, still contain them. The FDA last week announced the start of a 60-day comment period on its proposal to eliminate the harmful fat from those foods. It could take years for a full ban to go into effect.
Nevertheless, the plan should nudge Toledo and the rest of Ohio toward a better diet.