Now that the Food and Drug Administration has moved to banish most trans fats from the nation's diet, some public health advocates are hopeful that two other beloved ingredients — sugar and salt — will be subject to similar scrutiny.
"Sodium is next," said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a Harvard University epidemiologist and cardiologist at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Mozaffarian said the FDA has acknowledged a scientific consensus that trans fats are hazardous to the public's health. The same case could be said about excess dietary sodium, and that should be an equally powerful prod to FDA action, he said.
Tom Neltner, an analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C., said that sugar, too, may become a target in the wake of Thursday's FDA action.
In regulating food additives, the FDA has historically focused on removing chemicals that cause death and acute injury, Neltner said. Now the agency has demonstrated that it's ready to step in when a food additive contributes to chronic diseases that kill many people slowly.
"I hope this presages a new willingness to regulate with an eye to these chronic illnesses," Neltner said.
Even compared with saturated fat — a frequent fellow traveler — trans fatty acid is a bad actor, knocking the blood's lipid levels into dangerous territory on two fronts. Not only does it raise levels of LDL cholesterol, the bad kind; trans fat consumption depresses levels of HDL cholesterol, which is considered protective against heart disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reckoned that eliminating the remaining trans fat from American diets would prevent the premature cardiovascular deaths of 7,000 Americans and head off three times as many nonfatal heart attacks.