More Fat


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Arrrrghh. For some reason, Haloscan won’t let me post a response to Mischa’s last point on yesterday’s blog topic, the banning of trans fats. Thus, I must expend precious prime blog space in issuing a comment response:

DAMN! Haloscan keeps eating my response!

Excellent points, Mischa.

Yes, trans fats do exist in minute quantities in nature; I was wrong to speak in absolutes. As you mention, it is most commonly naturally found in some dairy products.

But here’s the thing: the very reason that I do not support the simple addition of warning labels on foods containing trans fats is that it is not practical to truly give the consumer an informed choice.

See, to fully explain why trans fats are dangerous and why they exist at all, one needs to explain stereo-isomer chemistry. Put simply, over the history of evolution on our planet, some geometric isomers have been incorporated into organic tissue almost completely exclusive of their cousin isomers, even though originally all isomers existed in equal quantities.

The best example is chiral chemistry, in which “optical isomers” exist as non-superimposable cousins, and which come to the fore in discussions of sugar substitutes. See, common sugars (dextrose) are “right-handed”, whereas “left-handed” sugars are theoretically indigestible… but that’s another health issue topic.

Technically, trans fats are just as “natural” as cis fats. BUT the fact that trans fats have all but disappeared from normal tissue over the last 100 million years, means that the forced re-introduction of them, in place of cis fats, is unnatural.

And indeed, I think there are some pivotal molecular structural differences between “natural” trans fats and the ones presently created for inclusion in fast foods. I have no convenient evidence of that, though.

More to the point, the so-called “natural” trans fats don’t appear to have the same deleterious health effects of the laboratory created trans fats. Therefore, I will make my position clear: I am opposed to the creation and introduction of synthetic trans fats in our food. This is not the same as being opposed to fats, in general, or of natural fats. Contrary to this article’s accusations, for example, I support butter (which has some natural trans fats) over trans fat-free margarine, since the artificial act of hydrogenation required to create margarine does not confer any health advantage that I can see; and because butter is yummy!

So yes, we can agree that a sufficiently informative warning would suffice. I would not fight you on that. But I don’t agree that a sufficiently informative warning is possible, not when it will be trumped by a food company saying, “eat for cheap!” If you can conceive of a warning label system that fully explains what a trans fat is, and why it might be harmful, then I’m open to the labeling solution. But ask yourself: is it ethical to allow a cheap, unhealthful food on the market, knowing that the poorest of the poor must gravitate towards it? On a population level, when averaged out, this is tantamount to poisoning the poor.

I would further argue that there should be an economic system wherein a company should be financially penalized for producing and selling unhealthful foods, thus making such things more expensive than healthful foods. Before trans fats, I would actually rather target high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is a cheap alternative sweetener to sucrose (and thus the most common sweetener in things like soda pop and off the shelf desserts); HFCS is, in my opinion, one of the prime causes of the current obesity and diabetes epidemics in North America.