Sometimes late at night I like to imagine myself as Supreme Empress of Health Care. Yes, I understand that America is a republic, but we need some major health care over hauling from someone who will A) actually get things done, B) think about the health of the nation as the political agenda, and C) never grant an audience to a lobbyist.
My first act as Supreme Empress will be to ban trans fats. Yes, I know everyone is slagging on sugar, but it’s not really the rat poison that it’s portrayed to be. Yes, we Americans eat a lot more sugar than we should and diets high in sugar do increase the risk of diabetes and obesity. But let’s not forget that sugar is in every fruit and vegetable. It’s why a ripe peach is heavenly and a roasted beet, divine. The sugar molecule itself isn’t bad, it’s the Coke, Pepsi, and those little powdered donuts that are.
The same cannot be said of trans fats. Trans fats are unsaturated fats (plant oils) that have been modified so they are easier to use commercially. They’re in that unique food group that my kids call McChemicals. As an aside, there are some natural trans fats, called ruminant trans fats found in small quantities in meat and dairy products. Studies indicate that ruminant trans fats do not carry the same risk as the McChemical trans fats, so the ban proposed by HRH the Supreme Empress of Health only refers to the McChemical kind.
Trans fats lower good cholesterol (HDL), raise bad cholesterol (LDL), and increase the risk of heart disease. Trans fats also increase inflammation in the body (not a good thing) and animal studies tell us that offspring exposed to trans fats during pregnancy have brain inflammation that affects hunger signaling and are more likely to be obese. So, trans fats appear to be harming future generations before they are even born.
Artificial trans fats are so unhealthy that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires the content be listed on food labels. The problem? If there is less than 0.5 g per serving the food can claim to be trans fat free. (Hey FDA, what IS that all whole “free” and “zero” meaning < 0.5 about anyway? You want to redefine “the” while you’re at it as well?). So, you only know if food is really free of all trans fats by reading the label and looking for the term partially hydrogenated oil. Sigh.
Most researchers believe there is no safe lower limit of trans fats and many believe they are be the worst macronutrient when it comes to increasing the risk of heart disease. Even worse than our old friend sugar. Some estimates put the deaths directly attributable to trans fats between 30,000 and 100,000 a year.
Despite the known toxicity of trans fats the official recommendation is to keep the intake at less that 1% of total calories for the day. With a 2,000 calorie a day diet, that’s less than 2 g a day of trans fats. Duncan Hines frosting has 1.5 g of trans fats in 2 tablespoons, and everyone stops at 2 tbsp, right? Given how many foods contain trans fats, it’s very easy to surpass the daily requirements before you even get to desert.
Some foods, like trans fats, are born bad – there is simply no biologically justifiable excuse for their existence. Accordingly, when I am the Supreme Empress of Health Care my first decree will be the banning of trans fats. This move will cost the government nothing, the tens of thousands of fewer cases of heart disease will save millions and millions of Medicaid and Medicare dollars, and it will save lives. I just don’t see the down side (then again, I’m not the CEO of General Mills or Nabisco).
Lead was removed from paint and mercury from thermometers. Why should food safety be any different?
Girl Scouts, Samoas. Nutritional label says 0 g of trans fats, but ingredients list says otherwise (the 2nd ingredient, no less).