The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it wants to ban trans fats from the American food supply, a move the agency says could prevent 20,000 heart attacks each year.
Trans fats are one of the biggest contributors to heart disease. It's estimated that the average American consumes 4.7 pounds of trans fat every year.
The FDA is "responding to the fact that the science really demonstrates that trans fat provides no known health benefit and that there really is no safe level of consumption of trans fat," said FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg.
"Consumption should be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet."
The fat lurks in many popular types of processed foods including microwave popcorn, frozen pizzas, margarines and coffee creamers.
It's made by bubbling hydrogen through hot vegetable oil to create a fat that is solid at room temperature.
Under the proposal, the FDA would declare that these types of partially hydrogenated oils are no longer “generally recognized as safe."
That's the legal designation that allows foods to contain things like salt and caffeine.
According to the New York Times, that would put the burden on food companies to prove scientifically that partially hydrogenated oils are safe to eat.
"That will make it a challenge, to be honest," said Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA, since there is overwhelming scientific evidence that the fats are harmful.
Trans fats have long been a target for the FDA and health campaigners.
In 2006, the administration required artificial trans fats be listed on food labels and many large food companies just eliminated them.
Restaurant chains in New York City were banned from using artificial trans fats in cooking the next year.
McDonald's completely eliminated the fats nationwide in 2008 and started cooking its fries, chicken and hash browns in a blend of canola, corn and soybean oils.
The FDA is starting a 60-day public comment period on removing trans fat from the agency's list of ingredients "generally regarded as safe."
"This is the first step in removing artificial trans fats from processed foods," said Hamburg, a process which could take years.
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