Q&A Ruth Sullivan: Getting Rid of Trans Fat

Ruth Sullivan

Ruth Sullivan

It was only a matter of time. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed banning artificial trans fat, or partially hydrogenated oils, from the food supply—eliminating what studies have shown is an ingredient that increases the risk of heart disease.

More consumers have been avoiding trans fat since the FDA required food labeling that lists the amounts in foods, in turn causing manufacturers to reduce or eliminate the ingredient in their products. But trans fat can still be found in some processed foods, such as certain brands of cookies, frozen pizza, microwave popcorn and margarines.

The FDA made a preliminary determination in November that trans fats are not “generally recognized as safe” for use in foods and a 60-day review is under way before the final ruling is made.

SU Food Services dietitian Ruth Sullivan answers some questions about what this FDA decision means for consumers and, in a separate food-related topic, she also addresses a recent federal justice decision to accommodate university students with food allergies under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Q: If the FDA makes a final determination that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer considered “safe,” how would this affect the foods that we eat?

A: The FDA has already required that trans fat be on food labels since January 2006. Manufacturers at that time stopped using trans fat, partially hydrogenated oils, and found alternatives—sometimes healthier alternatives. What the current preliminary determination will do is close a loophole. That loophole is that if a food item contains less than .49 grams of trans fat per serving, that label can list zero trans fat.

The FDA wants to remove trans fat GRAS (“generally recognized as safe”) status. If passed, when a company wants to use trans fat, they need to file a food additive petition to use trans fat.

Q: What benefit might this have on the general public’s health?

A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that eliminating trans fat could prevent up to 20,000 cases of coronary heart disease and up to 7,000 deaths annually.

Q: How would this impact Syracuse University Food Services and the foods that are offered?

A: Syracuse University Food Services started eliminating trans fat in April of 2006. When we decide what products to serve, we already look at the nutritional make up of that food item.

Eliminating items such as frozen pizza from your diet can help cut down on your consumption of trans fats.

Eliminating items such as frozen pizza from your diet can help cut down on your consumption of trans fats.

Q: What suggestions do you have for people who want to eliminate trans fat from their diet?

A: By avoiding baked goods, snack foods, frozen items and others, you can lower your intake to almost zero. Until this determination goes through, if a label indicates that it contains zero trans fat, you can look at the ingredient list and look for partially hydrogenated oils and avoid that product.

Q: In another food-related matter, this past year the Department of Justice and Lesley University in Massachusetts reached a settlement to accommodate students with serious food allergies under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under its mandatory meal plan, the university is now required to provide gluten-free and allergen-free food options for students with special dietary needs. Would this decision impact Syracuse University Food Services?

A: Syracuse University Food Services already meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act regarding food allergies or intolerance. We work one-on-one with students who have special diets to make sure we meet their needs. We’ve been doing this for many years.