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Lessons Learned: Trans Fats & Our Society PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Novick, M.S., R.D.   
Thursday, 20 March 2008 15:36
The following Dutch paper, authored by Martijn B Katan, looks at the development and history of trans fatty acids in the food supply. I found his three conclusions very important.

Katan MB. [Elimination of all trans fatty acids]
Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2008 Feb 9;152(6):302-7. Dutch.
PMID: 18326409

At the start of the 20th century, the production of trans fatty acids was
originally largely driven by the increasing demand for margarine. The two
Dutch margarine firms Van den Bergh and Jurgens played an important role in this early development. In the early 1990s it was shown that trans fatty acids increase the risk of heart disease. Unilever, the successor to Van den Bergh and Jurgens, then took the lead in eliminating trans fatty acidsfrom retail foods worldwide. As a result, intake in The Netherlands fell from 15 g per day in 1980 to 3 g per day in 2003. Dairy products and meat are now the major source of trans fatty acids. The effects on health of these ruminant trans fatty acids are unclear.

There are three lessons to be learned from the rise and fall of trans fatty

First, a history of safe use does not guarantee safety of food components, because routine surveillance will fail to detect adverse effects on common illnesses with long incubation periods.

Second, it shows that it is more effective and easier to change the composition of foods than to change consumer behaviour.

And third, governments can have a major impact on consumers' health by mandating the use of healthier food ingredients.

My Comments:

His first lesson is important, not only in relation to trans fat, but also in relation to many other food products/substances in the food supply. Many people believe that just because something has a long history of human consumption, that it is safe to use. This is clearly not true. Trans fat is not the first example of a product that had to be banned.

The second lesson is a sad, but true, and eye-opening statement about human behavior. It is extremely difficult to change human behavior without changing the enviromnent. This is why the food industry must play an important role in modifying the food supply and reducing and/or eliminating the amount of junk food. As long as we have an abundance of readily available, inexpensive junk food, people will continue to consume it. We are hard wired to do so. We just can't ask people not to consume certain foods, while at the same time, make them readily available, inexpensive and heavily promoted through highly effective marketing. This would be the equivalent of asking an alcoholic to get and stay sober, while spending all their time in an environment that is the equivalent of an ongoing happy hour party with inexpensive drinks being promoted by scantly clad sensuous barmaids.

Over a year earlier, in his article, "Regulation of trans fats: the gap, the Polder, and McDonald's French fries." (Atheroscler Suppl. 2006 May;7(2):63-6. Epub 2006 May 18. Review.) he concluded...

The story of TFA has shown that nutrition science can produce coherent data on health effects of food components, and that industry can implement these findings, stimulated by regulation, by society, or by enlightened self-interest. There is a sufficient scientific base to reduce TFA in foods, and if market forces or voluntary measures cannot do the job then government regulation is justified.

So much for "enlightened self-interest."

Which brings us to lesson three.

The third lesson is also important as it highlights another sad, but true reality in our society. That most food companies will not take it upon themselves to self regulate and help in improving their products on their own. Therefore, as Dr Katan has stated above, we will more than likely need government intervention, mandating these changes. I wish it wasn't so, but let's remember, the bottom line of all these food companies is not your health, but their bottom line.

And it seems that their bottom lines are improved by our over-consumption of their products and our widening bottoms.

I am glad trans fats are gone. Now lets work on saturated fat, tropical oils, hydrogenated and modified fats, refined grains/carbohydrates, refined sugars/sweeteners and added salt.

Of course, there is one place you can already find food that has none of these issues... The Produce Section!

See ya there! :)


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