Artificial Trans Fat, a chemical once heralded as an advance in modern food processing, but ultimately condemned as the cause of tens of thousands of deaths due to heart disease each year, has died.

It was 107 and lived in increasing seclusion in a small number of highly processed foods. According to family members, the cause of death was a heady combination of changing consumer choices and government regulation.

Artificial Trans Fat was born at the turn of the 20th century, the brainchild of chemists in France and Germany.

It originally lived in Crisco vegetable shortening, but soon moved to margarine.

Processed-food producers quickly realized the young fat’s potential to stave off rancidity and, as a consequence, lengthen shelf life.

It rapidly gained widespread acclaim in french fries, frosting, fried chicken, pie crusts, popcorn, cookies, Cinnabons, and more.

In its prime, Artificial Trans Fat—which often went by the alias Partially Hydrogenated Oil—helped fuel the growing international appetite for processed food.

But by the early 1990s, the tide had begun to turn against the luckless chemical. Studies linked it to heart disease, the nation’s number one killer, because it raised LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lowered HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Scientists blamed it for 50,000 deaths annually in the United States alone.

Spurred on by criticism by the likes of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (Nutrition Action’s publisher), Artificial Trans Fat became increasingly isolated. In 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration decreed that even its mere presence was noxious enough that it would have to be acknowledged on Nutrition Facts food labels.

Peter G. Lurie, CSPI President

In 2004, after uncovering something rotten in the state of Denmark, Danish public health officials expelled the fake fat, and heart disease rates fell. Other countries soon followed, though still others provided a safe haven.

Artificial Trans Fat became a pariah, shunned even by the makers of Oreos and Crisco.

The death knell came in 2015 when, at CSPI’s request, the FDA declared Artificial Trans Fat to be not Generally Recognized as Safe, consigning it to the ranks of the worst offenders in the American diet.

Artificial Trans Fat had to be out of all foods, the FDA declared, by June 18, 2018.

It is survived by its evil cousin, Saturated Fat, who lives in red meat, butter, cheese, and coconut and palm oils. Also surviving are its siblings Polyunsaturated Fat and Monounsaturated Fat, who live in fish, nuts, mayo, and most oils, where they are valiantly struggling to salvage the family’s reputation.

Peter G. Lurie, MD, MPH, President, Center for Science in the Public Interest

Illustration: Jorge Bach/CSPI.