Friday, November 08, 2013

Very heartening news

I'm not sure if I can convey my glee over this in writing. It ranks between "Obama elected president" and "Saints win Super Bowl" on my personal list.

I hate trans fats so much. When I first found out what they were (artificially produced fats with no safe consumption amount that jack up bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol and provide a fast-track to fatal heart attacks), I immediately stopped buying any food with a listed trans fat value above 0 grams. The trouble is, that was in 2009. For me, that's 29 years of damage done (and it's still unavoidable sometimes). And it was a lot of damage, because for many years I doubled down on foods I know now were saturated (no pun intended) with trans fats. In the switch, I gave up a lot of my absolute favorite foods, and continue to watch nutrition labels like a hawk.

Products with trans fats tend to have lower saturated fat content, so it was understandable for many years that it was seen as a cheaper and safer food-additive option. But around 1990, researchers realized the opposite was true, and it wasn't until 2006 that the FDA required trans fat content to be disclosed on food labels. (Red meat still isn't yet required to disclose it, though the natural traces of trans fats there are a different strain that are apparently less harmful than that found in partially hydrogenated oils.)

Some areas, including California and New York City, have already banned or reduced artificial trans fats. Living on the Nevada-California border, I can tell you the difference is stark — a breakfast biscuit at Carl's Jr. in Nevada has 6 grams of trans fat, while the same item 10 miles away has 0. Why must the Nevada biscuit have that extra kick of heart attack? No reason, including taste and texture (in my experience, those qualities are overrated, and I've read that alternate oils can produce the same effects). Well, partially hydrogenated oils are cheaper, so I guess there's that. Totally worth it.

So the FDA wants to begin phasing out a food additive that is now known not to offer any nutritional benefits, but is one of the top contributors to the No. 1 cause of death in America, heart disease (which cost the U.S. $444 billion in 2010, 1/6 of all health care spending, a figure expected to triple by 2030). It's hard to imagine anyone would terribly object to this.

But of course, they do.

Beck, along with Rush Limbaugh and others of such ilk, insist that trans fats should be left alone and people be allowed to make their own decisions. I've had the same thought about plutonium.

The thing is, I know plenty of people, even health-conscious ones, who don't know the first thing about trans fats. They think it's cute/pathetic/annoying when I scour labels. I realize I'm more militant about it than most people (and possibly too selective over that one thing), but still I think most people aren't as informed about this as they need to be. And it's not as if restaurants or food manufacturers are dying to educate the public. So whenever I hear the free-marketeers defend trans fats as just another grocery choice to make like apples and chicken, I imagine that lack of awareness, just like I had for 29 years.

Diet and exercise are important. But it's also important that our food doesn't contain items that are dangerous to us. Banning artificial trans fats is a start. We still have a long way to go.

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