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The Trans Fat Myth
by Justin Leonard
Written on February 2, 2007

By now, most of you are probably familiar with the term "trans fat." You've probably heard about it in the news, or read about it in a magazine. But what is trans fat? Why is it bad for you? What are the implications of the trans fat ban? The purpose of this article is to provide information on trans fat and expose some of the weaknesses of the trans fat ban.

Trans Fat In A Nutshell

Trans fat (aka trans fatty acid) is typically found in meat and dairy products in small quantities. The commercialized version of trans fat is known as partially hydrogenated oil. Partial hydrogenation is a process in which hydrogen is added to fat. It is a chemical process and is mainly used to increase the shelf life of foods. This makes it appealing to manufacturers because it ultimately cuts costs. Partial hydrogenation also enhances the taste of food by improving the texture.

The Problem With Trans Fat

The problem with trans fat is that it has been shown to clog arteries, which can lead to coronary heart disease. It can also raise bad cholesterol, which is associated with many health problems. It should be noted that trans fat is not dangerous in moderate quantities.

The Trans Fat Ban

Some U.S. cities have responded to the dangers of trans fat by barring it from local restaurants. New York was the first city to ban trans fats in restaurants. Many fast food chains have taken note and are now eliminating foods that contain the substance from their menus.

What Are The Implications Of The Trans Fat Ban?

While the trans fat ban is a step in the right direction, there are still loopholes. First, fat will inherently always contain 9 calories per gram, which is the highest for any nutrient. The process of partial hydrogenation does not add more fat to foods. It simply changes the structure of fat. So the question becomes: Will the ban actually cause a change in health outcomes?

In the supermarket, it’s getting easier to avoid trans fat (Liebman & Wootan, 1999). Some companies have already started labeling their products as "trans fat free." While this claim may in fact be true, it can still be misleading. Foods that contain no trans fat can still be fattening, which can clog arteries just as trans fat has been shown to do. Some candy is advertised as "fat free." Yet it is still filled with excess calories and can eventually make you fat. The worry is that people will read the misleading "trans fat free" label and assume that the product is healthy.

Here is another issue:

Businesses who manufacture prepackaged foods still use trans fats. This means that most cookies, ice cream, chips, frozen goods, and many other store bought foods still contain trans fatty acids. More importantly, the trans fat restriction in New York is limited to restaurants, not grocery and convenience stores. So essentially, the ban is a complete waste of time (but excellent for PR) in my opinion.

Some might argue that the ban infringes upon human rights by taking away freedoms. Yes, politics are involved. Should people be able to eat what they want? Or do we want the government to step in and dictate what we can and can't eat?

- End

References:

Liebman, B. & Wootan, M. (1999). Nutrition Action Healthletter--Special Feature--Trans Fat. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Retrieved from http://www.cspinet.org/nah/6_99/transfat3.html

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