human behavior

Take THAT trans fat!

Posted in Health & Medicine by humanb on December 6, 2006

imagesThe New York City Board of Health has voted unanimously to ban artificial trans fats in all restaurants (fast food and high end), and has ordered an entire phase out of their use by July 2008.

Trans fats are known to contribute to the clogging of arteries (which can lead to angina, heart attack, stroke and sudden cardiac death), by raising serum levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol, and lowering levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol.

Trans fats are formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats by adding hydrogen in a process called hydrogenation. A common example of this is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is used for frying and baking and turns up in processed foods like cookies, pizza dough and crackers. Trans fats, which are favored because of their long shelf life, are also found in pre-made blends like pancake and hot chocolate mix.

And from the New York Times:

Doctors and nutritionists now call trans fats the worst of all fats, with a direct link to heart disease. The typical American diet now contains 5.8 grams of trans fats per day, and a single five-ounce serving of French fries at many restaurants contains 8 grams of trans fats.

‘We’re not going to take away anybody’s ability to go out and have the kind of food that they want, in the quantities that they want,’ Mr. Bloomberg said today. ‘But we are trying to make that food safer.’

This latest ban is strongly endorsed by Michael Bloomberg, the mayor who raised the taxes on tobacco, and banned smoking in restaurants and pubs in New York City, a bold and laudable measure. New York City is the first city to ban artificial trans fats in restuarants.

I know for some of you, there is something creepy and authoritarian about government meddling in business to curb our unhealthy eating habits. But it is very difficult for Americans to watch what they eat in the age of dining out and take away, when you don’t know what’s in your food. The recognition that so many of our foods contain such harmful fats might also serve to make us more wary of any prepared or preserved foods we think to put in our mouths. This could usher in a return to – dare I say – cooking.

Perhaps that is going a bit far, and we are well beyond that period in human history in the urban West; but it is not a bad thing for Americans to become more conscious of what they eat.

The average American consumes 4.7 lbs of trans fat a year and a great many more pounds of sugar. It is still up to us to choose to eat healthful foods, but with more media attention paid to food ingredients, and new laws requiring food packaging and restaurants to reveal their ingredients, at least we can make more informed choices.

And certain ingredients just have no place in significant amounts in our food and drink supply. Trans fats are among them.

ELSEWHERE: New Yorkers comment on the new ban.

ELSEWHERE: Slate reports.

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