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US Panel Says No Amount of Trans Fat Is Safe

Thu Jul 11,10:35 AM ET

By Todd Zwillich

WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - Pastry and fried food lovers beware: there is no level of trans fatty acids that is safe to consume, a report from the Institute of Medicine ( news - web sites) concluded.
The report is likely to lead the US Food and Drug Administration ( news - web sites) (FDA) to go ahead with stalled plans to order manufacturers to disclose the trans fatty acid content of foods on packaging.

An expert panel at the Institute of Medicine issued a detailed review of research into trans fatty acids, the class of fat found in abundance in stick margarine, hydrogenated vegetable shortening and foods that contain them.

Though the panel had the option to declare a safe upper limit of daily trans fatty acid consumption, it declined to do so. "It is recommended that trans fatty acid consumption be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet," the report concludes.

Trans fatty acids are known to increase blood levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL), so-called "bad" cholesterol, while lowering levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL), known as "good" cholesterol. A blood profile containing high LDL and low HDL is a strong risk factor for heart disease.

Trans fatty acids are common in foods containing shortening, including pastries and fried foods, and are found in lower levels in dairy products and meats.

FDA proposed ordering the labeling of trans fatty acid levels on food packages in 1999 but held off finalizing the regulation until the Institute of Medicine issued its report. The agency is likely to go ahead with a rule ordering the labeling, according to press reports.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest first petitioned FDA for the labeling changes in 1994. Margo Wootan, the group's director for nutrition policy, said in a statement that the agency should now require manufacturers to display trans fatty acid values next to saturated fat levels.

"The report leaves the FDA with only one choice," she said.

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