View Full Version : Food Industry Mulls Dropping Obesity-Linked Trans Fats

03-29-2011, 11:24 AM
It has long been thought that to avoid obesity and heart disease, the important kind of fat to watch out for is saturated fat (which mostly comes from animal sources)1. Hence the split in nutrition information labels between saturated fats ("bad") and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats ("good"). However, over the last decade or so, scientific evidence has been mounting that a different category of fat - consumed in far greater quantities today than in past centuries due to changes in mass food preparation - is actually just as dangerous, if not more dangerous than, saturated fats. Trans fats have been fingered as a major culprit in America's bourgeoning obesity problem, in increasing the risk of heart disease - and they are possibly also a factor behind childhood allergies, asthma, and other conditions.

The industrial food production industry is beginning to wake up to the problems of trans fats - which crop up in significant quantities in a very wide variety of foods including hard margarine, crackers, chocolate bars, cereals, baked goods and more. Fortunately, high levels of trans fats are not an inevitability in the production of these foods. However, some companies have yet to take any action publicly. Last week, Kraft Foods announced it would be taking the major step of reformulating many of its products to address concerns with trans fats, a process which is expected to take 3 years. Nestle, Cadbury Schweppes, and Kellogg are also planning or investigating removing trans fats from (some of) their foods, and other producers are expected to follow suit. However, as of right now, it is difficult for consumers to ascertain which foods contain high levels of trans fats, because they do not normally appear on the labelling. This situation is set to change with new labelling regulations in Canada (coming into force in 2006), in the US (no date set) - and presumably the EU will not be far behind. Out of the North American and EU nations, Denmark has gone one step further and has set a statutory maximum on the quantity of trans fats a food may contain. For now, as a heuristic, nutritionists are recommending that consumers try to avoid foods with "hydrogenated vegetable oil", "partially hydrogenated oil", or similar, listed in the ingredients. Hydrogenation is a process of adding hydrogen to an oil or fat at high temperatures, which yields oils that last longer than the original without denaturing. Hydrogenation also occurs in nature (contrary to the claims of some websites which falsely assert that trans fats are "not found in nature"), in bacteria in the gut of ruminants. Hence, for example, butter - far from being a squeaky clean alternative to hard margarine - actually contains both saturated fats and trans fats (constituting about 3% of the fatty acids). Deep fat fryers in restaurants and fast food outlets also typically use hydrogenated vegetable oil, because of cost - it lasts longer and does not need an oil change as often. Another reason to cut down on fast food! But if hydrogenated oils are so cheap, why are companies suddenly deciding to switch, at this point in time? At least three factors may have contributed to this sea change: ? Scientists and advocacy groups kicking up a fuss about the risks of trans fats, raising public awareness. ? Coupled with the new labelling regulations (prompted by the former), this creates a potential competitive advantage in the marketplace for enlightened producers, with savvy consumers looking to take advantage of an easy, "brand-switch" approach to healthier eating for them and their children. However, this potential was not enough to effect change by itself - as the Toronto Star article notes, scientists tried to persaude companies for years, but it took government intervention in the form of labelling regulations to tip market forces in a direction which may end up saving many lives. Consequently, many lives will have likely been needlessly cut short due to the industry dragging its feet. ? The third motivation for the companies to act was the threat of litigation. An example of this was a recent lawsuit by an anti-hydrogenation activist lawyer - representing himself - against the maker of Oreos (which happens to be... Kraft Foods). Although it did not ask for damages, and was later dropped, it served as a wake-up call of sorts. California law (under which the Oreos suit was filed) allows plaintiffs to sue producers over problems that the producer knew about, but which the general public would not have known about at the time. This is useful because it provides a legal "hook" for a case to cite, but it seems that even in places without such a law, tobacco litigation would provide precedent for suing corporations who knew about a health risk but covered it up. A recent report from the financial giant J. P. Morgan warned of a flood of litigation: Kraft's decision followed warnings by investment dealer J.P. Morgan in April that the rise in obesity among Americans could lead to government intervention, and that the risk of lawsuits against food companies "should not be underestimated." [...] "We believe one thing is certain: Well-capitalized law firms with a wealth of experience in tort action lawsuits ... will continue to target the deep pockets of food companies," said the J.P. Morgan report by Europe-based analyst Arnaud Langlois. On this front, Kraft should be well-informed. Its parent company owns tobacco giant Philip Morris International. The J.P. Morgan report also concluded, "We think obesity concerns create a growth opportunity for players focused on healthy segments of the industry." And it said even a losing lawsuit could be enough to tarnish a company's reputation and hurt its stock price. With Kraft et. al's moves in the right direction, and these kind of statements flying around from those who have a vested interest in not scaremongering and not attracting lawsuits to their investment holdings, weight is lent to the activists who argue that the fight to reduce the use of hydrogenation could have the same order of magnitude importance for public health as the fight against the tobacco industry. However, not all would agree with that claim. Some dieticians argue that the new focus on trans fats is in danger of obscuring the very significant risks of saturated fats, which are also linked to heart disease. In particular, a proposed FDA labelling regulation that would warn consumers that there is no safe, recommended level of trans fats (rather than inventing a scientifically bogus "recommended amount" out of thin air). Putting, in effect, a tobacco-style "government health warning" about trans fats onto foods but remaining silent about saturated fats, they argue, might confuse consumers into thinking a food low in trans fats was automatically better than another food which was slightly higher in trans fats. This would be fallacious reasoning - but since the public are typically very poor judges of risk from a scientific point of view - worrying about rail disasters even though statistically railroad journeys are safer than car journeys, for example - they may have a point. ---- 1 Vigorous exercise, however, can offset the impact of saturated fats, by burning some of them up. The situation is not so simple for trans fats, which the human body seems to be evolutionarily ill-equipped to process. (Indeed, this is the reason why trans fats are thought to interfere with and degrade a number of important physiological processes).

03-29-2011, 03:36 PM
Ok so for the most part Trans fats are engineered by humans correct?? (except for those examples you gave) and the reason for the intial introduction of trans fats into our foods was what?? So they would last longer?? And so if you eat foods cooked in hydrogenated oil you are at the same risk?? If this is correct than the school of thought should be avoid all foods that are fried....yes