Our Quality Standards: No Artificial Trans Fats

It’s easy to avoid artificial trans fats when you shop at Whole Foods Market. Why? Because we don’t allow them in any of the products we sell.

We don’t sell just anything. Really. Everything in our stores has to meet our quality standards, or we won’t carry it.

In this series we’re giving you the inside scoop on our process, and some of our most fundamental standards – no hydrogenated fats, no artificial sweeteners, no artificial flavors or colors, and no artificial preservatives – and why what you find in our stores is different than anywhere else.  

First, the bad news: Studies show that trans fats raise bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol and cause heart disease.  Now, the good news: Our standards don’t allow artificial trans fats in any of the food we sell!

Back in ye’ olden days, they didn’t have to worry about food having artificial trans fats. That’s because they didn’t have processed foods like we do now.

Artificially created trans-fats were first developed as an inexpensive alternative to butter and lard. The hydrogenation process transforms liquid vegetable oils into fats that are more solid at room temperature by heating the oils under pressure while adding hydrogen.

The resulting “partially hydrogenated fats” are inexpensive, have a similar consistency and “mouth-feel” of butter and lard, and make the product less prone to rancidity, which extends the shelf life. Exactly what was needed for mass-produced baked goods that could sit on a shelf for a long time.

So trans fats made their way into many foods like coffee creamers, canned frostings, microwave popcorn, chewy candies, cookies, crackers, and cakes.

Then came the scientific studies. They showed that trans fats raised LDL (bad) cholesterol levels while at the same time decreasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels. That equals an increased risk of coronary heart disease.  In fact, trans fats have an even worse impact on cholesterol levels than diets high in butter, which contains saturated fat.

While industry trade groups, nutritionists and government agencies debated the findings, we took action. Back in 2003, Whole Foods Market removed these unhealthy trans fats from all the food products we sell.  It wasn’t a simple process. We worked to encourage manufacturers of margarine, shortening, cookies, crackers, ice cream, cakes, and more to develop non-hydrogenated oil replacement products. We wanted to make sure that our customers who desire vegan or non-dairy options had plenty of choices. The enthusiasm from our suppliers in tackling this challenge was admirable.  And their tasty results are very appreciated!

Ten years later, the Food and Drug Association (FDA) came to the same conclusion , announcing their preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for use in food. A final decision is still pending but would mean that the use of these oils in the food supply would be phased out over a number of years.

By sharing this story, we wanted to give you just a peek inside how we develop our quality standards at Whole Foods Market. Keeping current as new information emerges, listening to our customers, working with our suppliers to create new products and alternative production methods that help support your well-being and our environment.

It’s all part of our dedication to helping you make informed choices and providing you with the highest quality foods available.

So, that’s the trans fat story. Where are you on your transition away from trans fats? We want to know! Share in the comments below.

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