Good news on food and health

Trans fats are laboratory creations (few exist in nature) that extend food’s shelf life, which made them immensely popular with makers of processed foods, especially baked goods. We’ve known for a decade that in fact, they’re dangerous, raising levels of the “bad” cholesterol that can contribute to coronary heart disease. In 2003, the FDA required that food labels include them (“partially hydrogenated” is also a term used for trans fats). Health organizations worked hard to publicize the problem and people began avoiding these fat bomb ingredients.

So did it work?

Today the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a food industry watchdog, publicized some encouraging research which was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published here.A WSJ blog also took note. Bottom line: bans, labeling, and “voluntary” industry ingredient switches have succeeded in lowering the levels of the four commonest trans fatty acids in several hundred research subjects, by a collective 58%.

But don’t stop being watchful. CSPI also warns that some corporations are still selling trans fat-laden food. A report last month called out Sara Lee, Pepperidge Farm, and General Mills as some of the product lines to be wary of. Second, the FDA has a loophole: if a food has less than half a gram of trans fat per serving, it can be labeled as having none. Let’s hope that Girl Scouts really do get trans fats out of all their cookies, not just off the label. (And while they’re at it, get out the palm oil, which is responsible for environmental damage overseas.)

Sustainable food is healthy food, which supports life rather than undermining it. The CDC puts their advice to choose “foods free of synthetic sources of trans fats” right on their same page as enabling sustainability practices.

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