The Obama administration is cracking down on artificial trans fats, calling them a threat to public health. The FDA said today it will require food companies to phase out the use of artificial trans fats almost entirely. Consumers aren't likely to notice much of a difference, but the administration says the move will reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year. The FDA made a preliminary determination in 2013 that trans fats no longer fall in the agency's "generally recognized as safe" category, and made that decision final today, giving food companies three years to phase them out. With trans fats off the list, any company that wants to use them will have to petition the FDA, which is unlikely to allow many uses.
Once a staple of the American diet—think shortening and microwave popcorn—most trans fats are already gone. The FDA says between 2003 and 2012, consumer trans-fat consumption decreased about 78% as food companies used other kinds of oils. Still, the FDA says those trans fats still in the food supply are a public health concern. Scientists say there are no health benefits to trans fats, created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid (they're often called partially hydrogenated oils). Trans fats are used in processing food and in restaurants, usually to improve texture, shelf life, or flavor, but they can raise levels of "bad" cholesterol and lower "good" cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease. The FDA hasn't targeted small amounts of trans fats that occur naturally in some meat and dairy products because they'd be too difficult to remove. (Chipotle, meanwhile, is trying to create a tortilla from four ingredients.)