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This Week in FDA Regulation: Trans Fats, Fried Food Will Kill You

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By William Peacock, Esq. on November 15, 2013 1:02 PM

Adios, fried and well-done foods.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took the long-awaited step of announcing a 60 day notice-and-comment period for regulations that will ban artificial trans fats from the nation's food supply. This week, while abstaining from rulemaking, they warn us that fried and burnt grains and potatoes will cause cancer due to a newly-discovered chemical that forms at high temperatures.

No more French fries? Pass the boiled and steamed veggies.

The Trans Fat Follow-Through

If you want to hear the long and titillating history of trans fats (also known as partially hydrogenated oils) in foods, The Washington Times has a narrative of the artificially-created invention, as well as its rise and fall. The short version is this: scientists thought they'd make a great replacement for saturated fats, so advocacy organizations pushed trans fats in the 1980s, in margarine, shortening, and other products. It provided a nice boost to the soybean industry as well.

By the mid-90s, the scientific community realized the mistake, backtracked, and requested that food labels be required for trans fats. In 2006, the FDA finally implemented the requested rule. Now, after another seven years, the agency is moving to ban any non-naturally occurring trans-fats, reports The New York Times.

The ban shouldn't have too big of an effect on the nation's food industry. After the 2006 labeling requirement, and the wave of negative publicity, most restaurants and producers have already moved away from the artery-clogging oils. According to the Times, Americans ate about 4.6 grams per day of trans fats in 2006. Today, that number is down to about a gram per day.

Boiled, Not Fried?

In 2002, scientists discovered the presence of acrylamide, a cancer-causing chemical in food. Where does it come from? According to the FDA's consumer update, it is created when sugars and an amino acid combine in cooked food, namely food cooked for long periods of time at high temperatures. Steamed and boiled food to not typically form acrylamide.

What foods are the most affected? Potatoes, specifically French fries and potato chips, coffee (!), cereals, crackers or bread, and more. The Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that 40 percent of the calories in the average American diet contain the cancer-causing chemical.

The FDA recommends taking the following steps to reduce your acrylamide intake:

  • Aim for a golden yellow color, rather than dark brown or black, when frying foods or making toast;
  • Don't refrigerate potatoes, as this increases acrylamide during cooking;
  • Dairy, meat, and fish contain little, if any acrylamide

We know: the best fries are crispy fries. And seriously, French fries!

Just know, the darker the fry, the more acrylamide. It's one more reason to avoid fried foods.

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