NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 29, 2006

"Big Brother," "Orwellian," "Nanny state" -- all those words were on the lips of New Yorkers this week after the local Board of Health proposed banning most so-called trans fats from the city's more than 20,000 eateries, says the Wall Street Journal. 

The targeted fatty acids are produced when vegetable oil is solidified with hydrogen -- for frying foods or making baked goods, among other things.  They can raise levels of "bad" cholesterol.  Even health officials can't honestly claim that trans fats are a major cause of heart and artery problems, says the Journal.

  • If the current proposal actually becomes law, every outlet from the fanciest restaurant to the smallest pizza parlor will have 18 months to find substitutes for trans fat-producing hydrogenated oils.
  • These oils figure in thousands of recipes, in part because they produce familiar good tastes and textures but also because the oils don't get rancid quickly.

Few foods are healthy if you eat too much of them.  The label "no cholesterol" or "low fat" is not the ticket to dietary success that many of us want to believe.  The best way to eat healthy is to count calories.  But reducing one's intake of trans fats is so much easier -- especially if no one is allowed to serve them -- that it's tempting for everyone, including consumer health groups, to focus on this sort of fad and not on the boring old adage about doing everything in moderation, says the Journal.

Yet calorie counting has stood the test of time.  A sad sidebar to the New York story is that when health activists targeted saturated fats in the 1980s, food purveyors replaced things like beef tallow with vegetable oils and everybody cheered.  Who knew that today, hydrogenated oils and their trans fats would be labeled toxic killers?

Source: Editorial, "Big Brother Is Weight Watching," Wall Street Journal, September 29, 2006.

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