While the New Year’s ball was dropping in Times Square, the hammer was dropping on food companies across the country who, by order of the FDA, now have to list the trans fat content of their products on nutritional labels.
For those of you who don’t get out much, trans fat is not an airline for obese people. It’s an insidious type of fat found in partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils. This is why I have for years insisted on completely hydrogenating all of my vegetable oils and steering clear of Florence Henderson for good measure.
Trans fats get a major time-out because they not only increase bad cholesterol, but also decrease good cholesterol. No one yet has a handle on controlling precocious cholesterol, moody cholesterol, or rebellious cholesterol.
Some companies, including Kraft and Frito-Lay, are responding by cutting trans fats from many of their products altogether. It’s unclear if they’re being altruistic, media savvy, or putting all that trans fat into one humongous Mallomar. Regardless, it’s good news for our health.
Food companies aren’t the first to face this dilemma, but most opt for disclosure instead of changing the product. Cigarette manufacturers employ a generous “we’d rather warn you than save you” approach that works so well for them. Hollywood’s movie rating system lets us know how much gratuitous sex and violence to expect so we can be sure to get our money’s worth. I’d like to see stores like IKEA follow suit by either making their furniture easier to construct or applying a disclaimer that says, “building this armoire with your spouse may destroy your marriage.”
But what does this mean for the defenseless trans fats — now the outcast, the leper, the Michael Jackson of the fat community? Well, food persecution doesn’t always last forever. Remember how eggs, pork, and milk made their comebacks after being maligned? What celebrity wouldn’t jump at the chance to be in the pages of People magazine sporting a dashing trans fat moustache.
In my home, we also like our own children to make informed choices. For example, I often inform my kids that if they don’t eat the foods they’ve asked for, I’ll send them to a hungry third world country. I don’t clarify whether I’m talking about sending the food or the kids; I just let them draw their own conclusions.
My wife and I spend a fair amount of time checking labels for calories, fat content, cholesterol, and fiber. It’s important to remember that the information counts for just a single serving. How many times do you look at a nutritional label where everything seems to say, “Friend, you’re good to go!” Then, when you’re all done, you look closer and realize you’ve just consumed two servings! Who drinks only half a bottle of Snapple, anyway?
My sympathy for trans fats aside, I think outing them is a good idea. It empowers us to make good food decisions, increases the inventory of healthy foods, and makes me feel just a little smarter. Now I understand why “bad” peanut butter is bad, and why “good” peanut butter requires a professional wrestler with a crowbar to stir.
This just in: My wife tells me that more hydrogenation makes things worse, not better, and that a steady diet of completely hydrogenated foods will mean that, among other things, I won’t live to see the Superbowl. So, hydrogenation is out. I guess it’s a good thing the FDA is looking out for me.
Now pass me some of that yummy extra-high fructose corn syrup, will ya?