November 14, 2013

Editorial: Good riddance to trans fats

Is the government overstepping when it bans trans fats? In a word, no.

Scientists may be divided on some things, but the threat to health of trans fats isn’t one. It’s unanimous: Trans fats raise a person’s chances of having a heart attack.

So the government has decreed that food manufacturers may no longer use the artificial additive that helps food have a longer shelf life and have a less greasy feel.

Some doctors consider trans fats the worst type of fat. Unlike other fats, trans fat — also called trans-fatty acids — raises your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and also lowers your “good” (HDL) cholesterol.

According to the Mayo Clinic, trans fat is made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation.

Scientists aren’t sure exactly why, but the addition of hydrogen to oil increases cholesterol more than do other types of fats.

So the government is trying to save lives by banning the troublesome ingredient. The Food and Drug Administration predicts the move will prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths a year.

Predictably, some critics are outraged. Forget the lives being saved — it’s another example of the government trying to control yet another element of people’s lives, they claim.

We are all for civil rights. But two elements enter the argument here: Not everybody is equipped to save oneself from nutritional peril, and needless exposure to heart disease costs all of us in Medicare and Medicaid expenditures.

The manufacturers don’t seem particularly upset over the trans-fat ban. They’ll go on making their products, with or without them, and continue to realize profits. Alternatives to trans fats already exist.

If the debate over the rights of people to choose or not choose trans fats involved informed choices, there might not be any debate at all. Intelligent adults armed with all the information they need can indeed decide their own diet without the government’s help.

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