Nutrition labels will now be required to include, along with saturated and unsaturated fat content, the amount of trans fat a food contains, announced the Food and Drug Administration Wednesday.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson explained the label change on The Early Show from Washington D.C.
Trans fats, or trans fatty acids, are made through the process of hydrogenation that solidifies liquid oils. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavor stability of these oils and foods that contain them. Trans fat is found in vegetable shortenings, and in some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods and other manufactured foods.
Studies show consumption of trans fatty acids contributes to increased blood LDL-cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) levels, which increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Additional information from the American Heart Association indicates that CHD causes about half a million deaths annually — making it the number one cause of death in the United States.
The FDA believes the labeling will raise awareness of consumers and pressure manufacturers to use less trans fats in their food. Health and Human Services and the FDA expect many manufacturers to begin issuing new labels as soon as possible. Thompson says all nutritional labels will include trans fat content by January 1, 2006.
Fats are a group of chemical compounds that contain fatty acids. Thompson explains that energy is stored in the body mostly in the form of fat, and it is needed in the diet to supply essential fatty acids — substances essential for growth but not produced by the body itself.
The daily intake of trans fat in the U.S. is about 5 grams per person. For comparison, the intake of saturated fat is about 25 grams per person.
Recently, Kraft foods announced that it would begin looking for ways to use less trans fats in many of their products.