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Old 09-09-2008, 10:33 PM   #1
Cautious Pessimist
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Default Trans Fats: Victims of Bad Publicity?

When was the first time you heard of trans fats?

If you're a biochemist, perhaps you've been familiar with at least the minor structural difference that distinguishes these from the rest for quite some time. But the first I heard the term was about four years ago, when I heard that the United States Food and Drug Administration was going to require all food labels to list how much trans fat was in, well, everything.

And then the next moment, entire cities were on crusades to eliminate all trans fats from their borders. It was simple: trans fats were the reason so many people in the world were obese! Once again, science had come through for the good of humanity, and answered an age-old question, and now people wouldn't have to be fat any longer.

Surely I am not the first person to have wondered this. 'Curious,' thought I, 'Now, if trans fats cause weight gain, should someone with my predisposition to enjoy weight gain seek out trans fats?' I decided not to do this sort of tampering with forces beyond my realm of knowledge, perhaps intimidated by all the 'trans fat = death' propaganda surrounding me. The truth of the matter is that there is no proven link between trans fats and weight gain, but something leaked into the media and stuck in the minds of the anti-fat masses.

To be sure, there are studies which show trans fats as having adverse effects on health, mainly in the form of heart disease. But I have to wonder if these studies are being selected and publicized for telling the people what they want to hear. Science is funded by business - look at all the studies and conflicting evidence you can find on sucralose, the artificial sweetener in Splenda. Are the potentially harmful (or not) effects of an artificial sweetener part of a great mystery which has plagued scientific minds for centuries? No - what you see is a mud-slinging campaign of scientific studies hired alternately by the sugar industry and the sweetener industry to release a report from their point of view, so that the newspapers can tell you what to put in your coffee.

And so it may have begun with trans fats. Maybe someone really hated Crisco. And maybe they were on to something, and there is some risk of coronary failure with every generic store brand cookie you ingest. But the dramatic publicity the matter has received is only because it gives people an easy answer to a difficult question. When a person dissatisfied with their weight asks, 'Why am I fat?', hearing that the answer is a complex matter with many facets is just as well as hearing that there is no answer at all. Trans fats were just an easy target, and I suspect public interest will vanish as soon as national obesity and heart disease rates fail to go down in the next five to ten years.

Are trans fats bad? I can't answer that. They haven't killed me yet. They occur naturally in small amounts. They have been produced commercially in massive quantities for nearly a century and still people are living longer than ever. They're probably not great for you, but even apples contain formaldehyde.

'For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.'
-H.L. Mencken
All the wrong curves in all the wrong places
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