The FDA has announced that within the next three years, they will be putting a ban on artificially created trans fats.
When I first read the consumer update, my first thought was what took them so long? As a nation, we are spending more money from the health consequences of trans fats than the companies are saving for using cheaper substitutes for natural saturated fats. But then I remembered the history of hydrogenated fat, and the impact that the FDA has already made in this area. For your reference, here is a timeline:
From a historical perspective, we can see that there is often a disconnect between politics and scientific research. Although studies in the mid-20th century showed that the consumption of trans fat was damaging, the FDA recommended it over butter. Why? It was a combination of pressures including lobbyists, economic factors (animal fat is more expensive to produce,) and commercial development; none of which has anything to do with health. In 1980, Phil Sokolof’s ridicule of McDonald’s lead to an overnight shift from natural fats to artificial in the fast food industry. In retrospect, those companies were probably happy to make the move because it lowered their costs.
The 21st century is where things get really messy. Government regulation is implemented to protect the public while corporations find ways to skirt around the law. After the FDA required trans fats to be printed on nutrition labels, Crisco faced bankruptcy. With an ingredient list of “SOYBEAN OIL, FULLY HYDROGENATED PALM OIL, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED PALM AND SOYBEAN OILS, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, TBHQ AND CITRIC ACID (ANTIOXIDANTS) [sic]” how were they to stay in business? Simple – they just needed to find a loophole. It turns out that if a nutrition value is beneath a certain threshold, you do not have to report it; therefore, Crisco simply lowered their serving size until they could claim their product to have “zero grams trans fats per serving.” Is this legal? Yes.
The majority of the readers from Fix Your Gut are educated when it comes to health, but even the average American has probably heard the dangers of trans fats. Many companies like Nabisco, Kraft, and Nestle had been voluntarily reducing the amount of trans fat in their products without government intervention. Why? Because their customers asked them to and they wanted to keep them. The companies that have not chosen to reduce their trans fat content will probably follow Crisco’s example and circumvent the law. This will create market confusion and make it more difficult to shop for healthy foods.
What can you do as a consumer? Read the ingredients list carefully. If there is something in the list that you cannot pronounce, do not buy it! If you see the word “hydrogenated” it does not go in your mouth, or the mouth of your loved ones. Also, look for vague ingredients like “natural spices” (which is usually code for MSG) or proprietary blends. This is an easy way for shady companies to hide harmful ingredients. Buy real, unprocessed food whenever possible. It is difficult to hide trans fats in a blueberry!
Remember, you vote with your dollar. The best way to change things is to make smart purchases at your local grocer. Shop smart and be healthy!
Written by Jason Hooper