FDA Taking Steps To Ban Trans Fat

If some mysterious stranger walked up to me, handed over an enormous book, and said "here's a record of everything you've ever eaten," I'd open the tome with a mix of intrigue and embarrassment. The former coming from simply the oddness of the circumstances, the latter from the knowledge that there's plenty on the ledger I'd certainly regret.

A youth filled with White Castles by the dozen, foot-long hot dogs by the yard, and way too many drive-thru trips to Wendy's for my "usual," a thrifty calorie bomb consisting of two five-piece nuggets, two Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers, and a small Frosty. But, above all, one horrendous piece of constantly devoured junk food would make me drop my head in shame: Celeste Pizza For One.

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From grade school all through high school, my post-class eating ritual went a little something like this: Head to the freezer, grab a Celeste's (sometimes two), do some weird origami thing with the box so the pizza was propped up on a bit of built-in tin foil technology, throw that on a plate, stick it in the microwave for 1:30, check to make sure all of the cheese was melted (it never was), stick it in for another 30 seconds, take it out, burn the roof of my mouth with the first few bites, let it cool for another few seconds, inhale the rest. Saying I did this every day would be an exaggeration. Saying I did this most days would not.

Into college and even into my post-collegiate "adult" life, I took with me a version of this ritual. It was never as consistent, but nearly every grocery trip contained at least two or three printings of Celeste's name on the receipt. And then, on one fateful day, I looked on the box and realized that one of those minuscule Pizza For Ones -- which, maybe it's best to take a moment here to point out how depressing that name was -- contained five grams of trans fat.

Five grams of trans fat!

To give you some idea of how much five grams of trans fat is, that's roughly infinity times the daily recommended amount:

The Institute of Medicine determined that trans fat provides no known health benefit, and there is no safe level of consumption of artificial trans fat.

Which is part of the reason the FDA, on Thursday, decided to take the drastic step of eliminating trans fat from the food supply:

The partially hydrogenated oils containing the trans fats can't be "generally recognized as safe," according to a tentative determination today by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

This subtle shifting of language means that the onus is now on food manufacturers to prove to the FDA that partially hydrogenated oils are safe to eat before using them in their products. Which is kind of be like tobacco companies being forced to prove that cigarettes don't cause cancer. Meaning: So long, donuts. Adios, french fries. Arrivederci, Mama Celeste.

Well, not exactly.

The bid to get rid of trans fat has long been in the making, with this last burst of momentum starting in 2006 when the FDA created a new rule forcing it to be listed on labels. Since, companies have taken the message -- both from doctors and the public's buying preference -- to lower the levels of the dreaded oil in their foods. McDonald's stopped using it in their fries, General Mills reduced it across their wide line of products, and most frozen pizzas began finding healthier alternatives. As such, while the average American consumed 4.6 grams of trans fat in 2006, that number is now all the way down to just about one gram a day.

Which isn't to say that this unofficial ban will not have a dramatic impact. One gram a day is still enough to cause terrible health problems:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 5,000 Americans a year die of heart disease because artificial trans fat is in the food supply "and another 15,000 will get heart disease," due to it, said Thomas Frieden, CDC director.

So, yes. This is a big deal.

As of today's declaration, the public has 60 days to comment on the ruling and try to persuade the FDA that they're making the wrong decision. But after that, the "ban" begins going into effect. So, if you're hopefully addicted to something like Celeste Pizza For One's, well, first seek help, because those things will kill ya. But second, better head out to the store and stock up.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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