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The response of several Carroll County health professionals to a Food and Drug Administration decision to largely prohibit the use of partially hydrogenated oils — the primary source of dietary trans fats — in food products was largely positive, if somewhat cautious Tuesday.

"I was watching the news last night and thought it was about time," said Melanie Berdyck, a community nutrition educator and registered dietitian with Carroll Hospital. "Trans fats affect your cholesterol levels — they decrease your good cholesterol — and you find it in a lot of packaged processed things that people eat pretty frequently."

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Darlene Flaherty, a registered dietitian with the Carroll County Health Department, said that although she recognizes the problems associated with the use of trans fats, she worries that banning them might not be as effective as proponents hope.

"When they started recognizing trans fat as something bad, some companies lowered it or made their products trans fat-free, but that still didn't make it a health food. I recall a certain doughnut chain saying they were trans fat-free, which is good, but it is still a doughnut," she said. "I get concerned when people look at one component in food and think they can eat with reckless abandon because it doesn't have that one thing. People are still going to eat cookies and get too much sugar and fat."

While trans fats do exist naturally in some foods, the type the FDA will prohibit is artificial and made on an industrial scale by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils so that they remain solid at room temperature, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. These partially hydrogenated oils can increase the shelf life of processed foods but are also implicated in heart disease, raising — as Berdyck said — the amount of low-density lipoprotein, also known as LDL or "bad cholesterol" in the blood, while potentially lowering the amount of high-density lipoprotein, the HDL or "good cholesterol."

"We know heart disease is a serious problem for Carroll County and high cholesterol and our diet — along with smoking, lack of exercise and obesity — are all risk factors for heart disease," said Dr. Henry Taylor, acting health officer with the Carroll County Health Department. "The science is now clear that there is no safe level for the consumption of trans fats."

The FDA's decision is final but will take three years to phase in, meaning food companies must replace any trans-fat ingredients by June 18, 2018, unless they get a special approval, according to an FDA website. The organization believes this change could prevent thousands of heart attacks annually.

The FDA first required that manufacturers list the amount of trans fat in a product on their labels beginning in 2006, prompting some companies to voluntarily drop the use of such fats.

In Carroll, some restaurants never used trans fats to begin with.

"We don't use trans fats here," said Arlene Stecher, owner of the County Wine Cork Pub in Eldersburg. "First, everything we make here is fresh, so we don't preserve anything. And we don't use trans fat cooking oils, for health reasons and because the chef just prefers not to use trans fat; he thinks it gums up the taste and doesn't like it."

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