The FDA looking to ban trans fats? Really?
On one hand, the news is music to my ears. But when I really stop to think about it … I feel like it’s like opening Pandora’s Box.
Trans fats are dangerous, we know that. For decades, we’ve been artificially altering the chemical makeup of foods for taste and shelf-life sale-ability. Health was never a consideration. Studies were never done on the potential hazards, and how the body would even respond to such foreign chemically composed “foods” (or “food-like products,” as journalist and author Michael Pollan likes to say). And it’s in EVERYTHING – even foods that say ‘no trans fats.’ Troublesome, but true.
And whenever a societal pressure regarding an unhealthy food product reaches government ears, their reaction tends to be the same. DECLARE WAR on said unhealthy product, and BAN, BAN, BAN! Remember the soda ban in New York City? That didn’t get very far. And there is a very clear reason: People feel they have a right to choose, and pick their own poisons.
My suggestion? Education. It is key in every situation like this. Yes, the cigarette industry is still going strong, but persistent education on the dangers has made the American public hyper-aware of the risks of smoking. In fact so much so, that it’s become socially acceptable to “bully” friends and family to stop smoking. I know, because I did it with my grandmother when I was 13, by stealing her cigarette packs and throwing them away. After a few angry phone calls and a good amount of wasted money later, she allowed herself to listen to my pleas. Today, laws have been enacted to keep smoke away from doors to establishments. And you just don’t see “smoking sections” in restaurants today. Amazing what a little knowledge can do. Yes, people still smoke. But it’s their choice to do so. Our job is simply to inform them.
But the education on nutrition – I haven’t found that to be as public as it needs to be. It is only starting to surface in the American consciousness that being overweight or obese is dangerous to both personal health and the country’s economic stability and healthcare industry.
In the above linked article by Alexandra Sifferlin, in “7 foods that won’t be the same if trans fats are banned,” she mentions some of the possible replacements for trans fats in highly processed foods such as doughnuts, creamers, etc. Soybean, canola, and vegetable oils top the list. While on the surface, the idea of throwing out trans fats and using oils low in saturated fats sounds like a winning combo, it won’t in the long run. And I won’t even get into the GMO issue presented by these alternatives.
Okay, here I will go as far as saying: The problem ISN’T trans fats! *gasp!* Before you start pointing out the failure in my logic, hear me out. The problem today is that the very things humans find savory – fats, salts, and sugars – are far too prevalent in today’s processed foods. What we are missing is the know-how to make informed choices between the foods and food-like products, both in restaurant establishments and at the supermarket.
And statistics back me up.
“Solid fats contribute an average of 19 percent of the total calories in American diets, but few essential nutrients and no dietary fiber,” it says in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, written by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Males consume 2,475 calories daily and females consume 1,833 calories. Men and women eat an average of 33 percent fat. While that is within range of fat recommendations (20-35%, or 400-700 calories/45-75 grams of fat), that 20-35% of recommended fat refers only to the healthier unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The majority of fat calories consumed today by American men and women are primarily from saturated fat. The American Heart Association puts a cap of saturated fat intake at 7 percent of total daily calories, or 140 calories/16 grams a day. Trans fat is recommended at less than one percent.
So my recommendation is not cutting out all the bad stuff in food. I am a nutritionist, and I still eat French fries, cookies, crackers – but on occasion. It’s about learning how to eat in moderation! Knowing what is bad for us, and why goes a long way in making healthier choices. We eat these foods filled with less than healthy things, because we enjoy them. Frankly, they taste good! We should still allow the American public to enjoy them – but teach them how to view them as treats, and not an everyday, go-to food-like product. As a coach, I work with people to add healthy things into their diet, rather than take away things they take pleasure in (because taking that away, even figuratively, makes a person covet the off-limits food even more).
Shouldn’t the FDA think about doing the same? Maybe regulation and bans are not the answer.