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.
But not everyone is an intelligent adult. What about the millions of kids every day who visit vending machines stuffed with bags of snacks with unhealthy ingredients? Should they be left to their own discretion in deciding what to eat?
We should be thankful that somebody is looking out for them.
And if thousands of heart attacks can be avoided every year without compromising the taste of food, every taxpayer should be rejoicing — to say nothing of those at risk for heart attacks.
It’s not as if muffins are being banned. They’re not — just the worst ingredient, which will be replaced with a better one.
In the United States, let freedom ring. With healthful, life-saving portions.