I’ve got a solution to the Trans Fats In Food problem. You know, those poisonous fake oils that keep showing up in your food despite people’s best efforts to get rid of them?
Here’s a simple change that would help a lot: food labels list ingredients by weight. Trans fats are listed as the number of grams your food contains (a gram is about a half a teaspoonful — that’s a lot). Here’s all I ask: list trans fats in milligrams. That’s all. Done. Story over. Trans fats will quickly disappear once that requirement is imposed.
There are plenty of people who will warn you of the dangers of Trans Fats. That’s why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires food labels to state the quantity of them in those corn chips you just bought.
Most people agree that they’re bad news, though they may not know why. I wholeheartedly agree, and that’s saying something because I DO know why, given my PhD training at one of the nation’s most respected nutrition schools, Cornell Medical College in Manhattan. Let me explain.
Did you know that trans fats are horrifically unnatural things? They’re made by taking healthy, nutritious soybean oil and treating it very mean. In giant industrial processing plants, huge stainless steel vats of the oil are heated and pressurized to temperatures and pressures you’d expect on the surface of the sun or in a nuclear reactor. Add to the mix some heavy metal in the form of palladium catalyst, bubble in some poisonous hydrogen gas, the same gas that blew up the Von Hindenburg, stir for a while and there you have it, industrial sludge where there once was wholesome vegetable oil.
The reason industry wants to feed you this stuff is because, unnatural material that it is, it lasts on supermarket shelves almost indefinitely. Nothing made with these fats gets stale or rancid, because they are too unnatural to get stale or rancid. That used to be viewed as a plus and was a major drive behind the creation of margarine. Imagine, butter that you can ship all over a war-torn world to feed the troops, and it doesn’t go bad. Wow!
Trouble is, it tends to collect in your arteries and make you die young. Your body fights back against trans fats by producing extra cholesterol, which is the body’s natural detergent, in an effort to dissolve the stuff. Unfortunately, too much cholesterol leads to early death too.
So, here’s why the FDA should insist trans fats be listed in milligrams, not grams. Companies have already learned how to fool the public using grams. You’ve seen it on the front of all kinds of food packages: 0 grams Trans Fat!!! I’ve learned that that actually means there are indeed trans fats in the food. How can that be? You learned the trick in grade school: rounding off.
Remember how as a child you learned to round fractions below 0.5 down to the next integer and fractions 0.5 and above up to the next integer? Uh huh, so the corporate conglomerates remember that one too. Let’s say your food has 0.222 grams of trans fats per serving. Yippee, Mr. Food Giant! You get to round down to zero. So, 0 grams Trans Fat, right?
One reason I read the ingredient list of every food I buy is that those 0 gram claims show up in all kinds of foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils — the sludge I was talking about before. Foods like cookies and chips are very often loaded with tans fats, despite the 0 gram certification that the FDA has seen fit to allow.
Well, I really believe trans fats are a health hazard (more on why in a later post). So what can we do? How about insisting that the FDA make one tiny, easy change in its requirements? Switch from grams to milligrams for trans fats. That’s all. No need to ban them. No need to fight about them. Just say they must be listed in milligrams, like many other ingredients are.
Then, 0.222 grams switches to 222 milligrams. Nobody needs to round anything. And, nobody can make a phony claim for zero of anything when the answer is actually a lot of something. You see, even a glob of 222 milligrams of fat is bigger than the average coronary artery diameter, plenty of material to start the hardening process. So let’s start facing the real facts with the real numbers in hand.
Frankly, I’m appalled at how much trans fat is still being sold in the average supermarket. Looking past the 0 gram claims, I see that MOST cookies and MOST chips on the shelf report using partially hydrogenated oils in their ingredient list. Under present requirements, that could mean as much as 499 milligrams per serving is slipping by as 0.499 grams, or 0 grams Trans Fat!!
Let’s get real. Report Trans Fats in milligrams. Then people will know how bad the problem really still is.