In 1994 the Center for Science in the Public Interest first petitioned the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require companies to list the amount of artificial trans fats on nutrition labels. Now, more than 15 years later, the FDA hopes to greatly reduce the amount of harmful fats in the American food supply and has taken a positive step toward improving national hearth health.
Just last week the agency proposed that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs)—the primary dietary source of artificial trans fats—no longer be “generally recognized as safe” for use in food. Despite being a significant contributor to heart disease, trans fats can still be found in many products, including pre-packaged baked goods, frozen pizzas, microwave popcorn and even coffee creamer. Under the new ruling, PHOs would be considered “food additives” and could not be used in food unless companies were able to prove their safety.
“The FDA’s action today is an important step toward protecting more Americans from the potential dangers of trans fat,” stated FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. in a November 7 press release. “Further reduction in the amount of trans fat in the American diet could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year—a critical step in the protection of Americans’ health.”
Although trans fats occur naturally in small amounts (mainly in meat and dairy foods), most are created artificially by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation, which increases the shelf life of processed foods and enhances the flavor and texture. Unlike beneficial monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, trans fats have been shown to raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. In addition, trans fats lower HDL or “good” cholesterol levels, and scientists believe even two or three grams a day can increase the health risk.
While most U.S. food manufacturers and restaurants (including fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken) have already significantly reduced or discontinued their use of trans fats, the FDA hopes to target the last remaining culprits. Following the announcement, the agency opened a 60-day comment period to “collect additional data” and give manufacturers enough time to reformulate products if the ruling is finalized.
It seems Americans are reluctant to talk about their digestive issues. In a recent survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, 56 percent of the participants said they believed their gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms were not worth discussing with their healthcare practitioner, even if they occured several times a month.
Results also revealed 72 percent of adults age 18 or older experienced at least one of the following GI symptoms a few times a month or more: diarrhea, gas and bloating, stomach pain, frequent bowel movements, unexplained weight-loss and non-specific GI discomfort. Further, most of the participants had lived with their symptoms for more than six months.
The survey was commissioned by the biopharmaceutical company AbbVie in an effort to raise awareness about digestive health and a condition known as EPI (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency), in which the pancreas fails to produce enough of the enzymes needed to digest food properly—mainly amylase, lipase and protease. Particularly concerning is the fact that the symptoms associated with EPI (which include diarrhea, gas, bloating and stomach pain) mimic those of other common digestive disorders, so the condition is often overlooked.
Experts agree that while occasional discomfort may not be cause for alarm, ignoring persistent digestive problems may lead to bigger health issues over time. Remember—more than three-quarters of the body’s natural immune defenses can be found in the gut, so maintaining a healthy and balanced digestive system is important!
Because enzymes are found naturally in fresh, raw foods, adding plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet can go a long way toward preventing GI problems. Taking a daily digestive enzyme supplement is also recommended; unlike many over-the-counter drugs, enzyme supplements are natural, safe and highly effective. What’s more, instead of masking the symptoms of poor digestion, they help provide a solid foundation of digestive health, which in turn helps support your overall well-being.‡
When choosing an enzyme supplement, keep in mind that plant-derived enzymes are effective over a broader pH range in the body and can help digest a wider variety of foods, including proteins, fats, dairy foods, carbohydrates and sugars. ‡ Targeted formulas are available to address issues such as excess gas or lactose intolerance, and those with sensitive stomachs may want to look for a supplement with added herbal ingredients and amino acids shown to help soothe and nourish the digestive tract. ‡