To be honest, we don’t yet know for sure. If you’re consuming them, you’re part of a 40-year social experiment to find out.
Originally published 2007
The trans fat labeling law has definitely begun to change the way foods are produced, and the changes are definitely for the better. But are they enough? It’s too soon to know for sure, because the food industry hasn’t exactly gone back to natural ingredients that are known to be safe and nutritious.
Unfortunately, the labeling law the industry is required to follow has a couple of loopholes. “Zero grams trans fat” only means less than .5 grams per serving, while “zero percent trans fat” means less than .5% of a 2,000 calorie diet (10 calories, or 1 gram per serving). Either way, a lot depends on the serving size. (For more, see What’s Wrong with Trans Fat Labels?)
Getting under those limits has least meant that partially hydrogenated oil can’t be used directly in the packaged foods that have those labels (although it is still used in fast foods, which do not yet have any labeling requirements). But that doesn’t mean that a natural fat like butter is used.
Instead, the industry is using a new process to create semi-solid fats. It minimizes the harm, but it’s not quite
damage-free. The process is called”interesterification”. To do it, they fully hydrogenate half the oil, and then blend in a non-hydrogenated oil.
There are several questions that have yet to be answered about that procedure:
- How much heat is used to blend the oils, and how many trans fats result? (The fully saturated fat will be a solid until heated.)
- How many damaged fats are produced by full hydrogenation, and what kind of harm do they do?
- How many trans fats are produced when the oils are /Templates/health.dwted and stored, before blending.
At the very least, we know that heat oxidizes the saturated fats, which leads to the oxidized cholesterol that form arterial plaque. So the technique definitely isn’t risk-free. Beyond that, there is the question of how many trans fats result.
There are no long-term studies that show the resulting fats to be safe, nor are such studies required. The only requirement is that they are not shown to be immediately harmful. The bottom line is that if you ingest them, you are participating in a 40-year social experiment to find out if they cause problems.
In short, government is not ensuring that corporations exercise caution to protect your health. Instead, government is acting to protect corporate profits until (a) the substances are proved to be harmful and (b) enough of the public becomes educated about it to rise up in arms — a process that took more than 30 years, for trans fats.
It is a system that is precisely backward. It defies logic, and it plays roulette with your health. But that’s the way things work, at the moment.
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