FDA Bans Trans Fat, Decades in the Making

Julia Child had it right when she said “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”

On June 16, 2015 the FDA finalized its determination that partially hydrogenated oils are not safe for use in human food. Food manufacturers will have until 2018 to remove trans fats from products. Many Americans, both in and out of the scientific community, felt that this decision was long overdue.

The History of Trans Fat

In 1911, Crisco (hydrogenated cottonseed oil) hit the store shelves as an inexpensive substitute for butter and lard. It also increased the shelf life of baked and packaged foods. During World War II, butter was scarce and the newly invented hydrogenated oils were used in its place. Even when butter was no longer limited in supply, the popularity of this butter substitute, a.k.a. oleomargarine, continued to increase.

Even in their heyday, trans fats weren’t without critics. In the 1950s, University of Illinois professor and scientist Fred Kummerow discovered that the arteries of people who had died from heart disease contained high levels of artificial trans fat. A follow-up study showed that when artificial trans fats were removed from the diets of rats with atherosclerosis, the atherosclerosis disappeared from their arteries. In 1957 Kummerow published a warning about the dangers of these artery-clogging trans fats. The warning went unheeded.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, heart disease was on the rise and health advocates encouraged reducing saturated fats from our diet. Why no one (yet) agreed with Kummerow that the rise in heart disease was related to trans fats I can only speculate, but the latest recommendation to reduce saturated fat from our diet during the 70s and 80s made margarine an even more popular replacement for butter on our dinner tables and fast food restaurants replaced their beef fat with partially hydrogenated oils.

Health Implications

As our consumption of trans fats increased, the rise in heart disease continued. As did the rise in obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, and a myriad of other diseases and health problems.

Disease Trends and Butter Consumption

Copyright © 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint granted by Lew Rockwell.


Fast forward to yesterday’s announcement that the FDA is calling for the removal of artificial trans fats in processed foods.

In the FDA’s news release dated June 16, 2015, the FDA stated that “partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not ‘generally recognized as safe’ or GRAS for use in human food. Food manufacturers will have three years to remove PHOs from products.” The FDA goes on to state that this action is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.

Dietary Fat – Not the Villain?

This brings us back to Julia Child. “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” Indeed.

Now that, officially, butter is in and margarine is out, let’s remember that dietary fat is not the villain. Fat is essential to our health. Fats provide energy, build healthy cells, provide the structural components of cell membranes and myelin in the brain, help the intestines absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, regulate the production of hormones, and so much more.

And, in addition to studies showing that there is no link between dietary saturated fats and cardiovascular disease (Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute and the Department of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health), there is also evidence that consuming the full-fat version of dairy products is in our best interest.

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in January 2013 found a link between full-fat dairy consumption and a decrease in heart attack risk in women.

Studies have also shown that children who drink skim or low fat milk are more likely to become overweight (University of Virginia and March 2013 Archives of Disease in Childhood).

A Swedish study from the 2014 European Association for the Study of Diabetes found that those who eat eight full fat servings of dairy a day were much less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. Why? In milk, stearic acid, a saturated fat, protects you against diabetes by preventing increases in blood glucose levels.

If lowering your risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes doesn’t convince you to stick with full-fat dairy products, keep in mind that non-fat and low-fat versions of dairy products often contain unnecessary fillers and added sugar to improve their consistency and taste.

Many of us choose not to eat dairy products at all and this research isn’t implying that you should eat a gallon of ice cream every night or consume cream like it’s going out of style. The consensus in the health community is still that we should eat more unsaturated fats than saturated fats but that doesn’t mean replacing saturated fats with trans fats or low/non-fat dairy or other unhealthful foods, it just means that a larger percentage of the fat you eat each day should be unsaturated. Everything in moderation. So if you do eat dairy, reach for the full-fat Greek yogurt, instead of the non-fat – your heart, blood sugar, AND waistline will thank you.

A Decision Decades in the Making

Remember Fred Kummerow? The scientist who, in the 1950s, was adamant that trans fats were dangerous to our health? He’s now 100 years young and never stopped his research. Since his initial report in 1957, Kummerow continued to urge the FDA to ban trans fats from the American diet. He published studies. He filed petitions. And in 2013, he sued the FDA asking a judge to ban partially hydrogenated oils. During the decades that Kummerow worked tirelessly to prove that trans fats were dangerous to our health, he was continually told by the FDA that there wasn’t enough research to back up his claim. Sound familiar? Ring any GMO bells?

Yesterday the Washington Post published a story about Fred Kummerow and the FDA’s move to ban trans fat.

“Science won out,” 100-year-old Kummerow said. “It’s very important that we don’t have this in our diet.”

It took over a century for the FDA to ban trans fat. Will we wait another century for the same position on GMOs?


  1. As I was reading the article, I was amazed that scientists knew about this that long ago. Additionally, while I was reading, I was thinking about why it is taking so long to understand that GMO’s are another problem. Thought it was telepathic when I saw it as your last sentence.

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