In case you didn't hear, the FDA has proposed regulations on trans fats in foods. If this idea becomes a reality, partially hydrogenated oils will no longer be on the list of food additives that are "generally recognized as safe" or GRAS. While this is still in the works, I thought it would be good to do a little review on trans fats and share my thoughts on this move by the FDA. There are two different variations of trans fats. Some are naturally occurring in small quantities and aren't harmful to humans. The other kind are man-made and incredibly damaging to human health. We're talking about the man-made ones here. In my opinion, artificial trans fats are the worst additive in processed foods. Even a few grams can drastically impact cardiovascular health. Trans fats have come under fire in recent years for this reason, leading to labeling on food packaging and many producers finding alternative fats to use at the public's urging.
If you'd like more info, be sure to check out my previous post on trans fats.
Unfortunately, trans fats haven't totally been removed from our food supply and that is what this proposed regulation would do. Now, I'm generally cautious about any type of legislation or regulation. Often times, laws and regs can have unintended consequences or become outdated as more information becomes available. Also, they can inhibit innovation. We see this happen all the time in meat production when the same regulations are applied to factory farms and processing centers, where no consumer can enter or investigate, and small family farms that welcome their customers to visit at any time and are completely transparent to the consumer. It's foolish to impose the same rules on both factory farms and small, sustainable operations because the risks associated with each are completely different. Additionally, public pressure can create a lot of the changes we desire. Trans fats have been removed from a great deal of foods already because consumer spoke up and companies listened.
Despite all this, I am totally on board with this possible trans fat regulation. For one, the current labeling is weak. If a food has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, it can be listed as 0 grams on the label. If consumers aren't savvy enough to read ingredients, they can be making what they think is a healthier choice and totally be tricked. If people choose not to be healthy, that is their right, but, when someone is trying so hard and their efforts are squandered by dubious labeling, it's a whole different issue. Also, industrially produced foods should have more oversight for the same reason such laws were put into action in the first place: when buying food that is produced in an industrial environment that is totally closed off and separated from the public, the consumer is unable to make educated decisions about the safety of that food. We would not want any other poison in our food and that is what this change is all about. Trans fats aren't safe and they shouldn't be allowed.
However, in the end, this legislation speaks to a bigger problem. People are eating way too many processed foods and not enough real, whole foods. This bandage may help public health, but there is still a lot of work to do to get people to spend more time cooking and less time worrying about food labeling and regulations.