A Crisco ad from 1961. It turns out trans fat products like Crisco are problematic.
A Crisco ad from 1961. It turns out trans fat products like Crisco are problematic.
The federal Food and Drug Administration has moved to ban trans-fats from food, a development that has health experts saying even traces of the man-made compounds can lead to increased risk of heart attack.

The FDA says the stricter rules could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.

Any fitness plan for the new year should include ways to avoid trans-fats, which were developed by the food industry to enhance shelf-life and texture of baked goods.

In the 1890s, scientists discovered that treating certain organic compounds could be reduced or compacted by treatment with hydrogen. By the turn of the 20th century, hydrogenation was used to create fats in laboratories. The most popular version of what would be called trans fats was Procter & Gamble's Crisco. Butter rations during World War II increased use of margarine, rife with trans fats. In the 1950s, doctors began cautioning against too much use of saturated fats in foods like butter and beef. That led to hydrogenated fats being added to cookies, chips, cakes and frostings. By the 1980s, fast food restaurants were using partially hydrogenated fats to cook french fries and other foods. But the good intentions caused bad health.

Studies in the 1990s began show deleterious affects of such trans fats, which can throw the body's balance of cholesterol out of whack, leaving deposits on the walls of blood vessels. A major study showed that each 2 percent increase of trans fat intake would almost double the coronary heart disease.

The FDA required trans fats to be identified on labels starting in 2006 and now says there are safer substitutes. That has led to talk of the ban.

"We should all be label readers," says Dr. Ty Gluckman, a cardiovascular expert for Providence Health and Services. Gluckman admits that doctors have not been clear enough in explaining the perils of saturated, unsaturated and trans fats.

"Even bright people have trouble discerning," he says.

But now, Dr. Gluckman favors the proposed ban. He realizes it is a debate over protecting people from themselves. But since there are safer alternatives with little reduction of quality, he thinks it is not really a real matter of liberty.

Trans fats have been shown to lead to stroke, heart attacks, painful walking and bad blood flow into the legs, Dr. Gluckman says.