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The Trans Fat Psychos Are Changing Your Food In A Bad Way
Kim Severson writes in The New York Times that, in response to "trans fat hysteria," bakers are being compelled to replace butter with palm oil or margarine because of the small amounts of trans fat butter contains:

When the F.D.A. was considering the 2006 trans fat labeling law, the dairy council and others argued that natural trans fat should be uncoupled from artificial trans fat because natural trans fat might not be dangerous and because people get relatively little trans fat from meat and dairy products.

Dale E. Bauman, a Cornell University professor who specializes in animal science, says natural trans fat can be used by the body to synthesize conjugated linoleic acid, a good fatty acid that could help prevent diseases like cancer. Other trans fat researchers are a little more cautious, but still believe natural and artificial trans fat should not be viewed with the same concern.

Dr. Walter Willet of the Harvard School of Public Health said the chemical makeup “of specific trans fatty acids in dairy fat is different than in industrial partially hydrogenated trans fat, so it is possible that the effects are different.”

In his original paper on trans fat in 1993, which is largely credited for revolutionizing thinking on partially hydrogenated oils, Dr. Willet found that the increased risk of heart disease was associated with the amount of industrial trans fats people ate. But he cautions that even if the trans fat in butter turns out to be fine, the saturated fat it contains will always be a concern.

In the end, the F.D.A. decided not to distinguish between the two fats, and requires all trans fat amounts to be labeled if there is a half a gram or more per serving. The half-gram mark is in part because it would be impossible to rid the nation’s diet of the natural trans fat in meats and dairy products.

As processed food manufacturers and fast-food restaurants struggle to find new kinds of trans fat-free oils, and some bakers struggle over what to do about butter, the natural trans fat in meat has gone largely unnoticed. (Two ounces of ground beef would be over the limit.)

But nervous meat purveyors are starting to ask about it, especially as more and more city health officials push through trans fat bans, said Lynn Morrissette, senior director of regulatory affairs for the American Meat Institute.

A little science, anyone? Here's an excerpt from a blog posting I put up a while back:

Yes, but what of "the French paradox" -- the fact that the French eat a high-fat diet but don't die of heart attacks anywhere near the rate of Americans? Will Clower, the neurophysiologist author of The Fat Fallacy, notes the findings of a massive European study called "the MONICA project," showing that rates of heart diease are three times greater for men from 35 to 64 in Scotland and Ireland than in southern European versions. The dietary difference? Eating high quantities of animal tissue fat daily, such as bacon and sausage. Clower, on page 22, compares this with the kind of fat the French eat:
Dr. Boué and his colleagues looked at the fats typically eaten by a large population of healthy French women. Of the "ruminant fats" (which incluide dairy products, beef, mutton, and tallow), their study showed that a majority of their dietary intake, a full 85 percent of it, came form dairy products like whole milk and cheeses.

So here's the French recipe for low weight and decreased heart disease: Go low on animal tissue fats (particularly red meat) and high on other natural fats.

Clower continues to note the irony that you find "the highest bulk of overweight people in the same place as you find the largest commitment to diet foods, diet drugs, and economic markets for weight-loss products and programs."

Posted by aalkon at March 11, 2007 10:42 AM


Palm oil? I thought that counted as one of the tropical oils that the body changes into cholesterol pretty quickly. Could be misremembering from back when "cholesterol free" was a big point, but tropical oils were used as a substitute for a while.

Also thought I was where the french were not properly recording death from heart disease, so the lower rate was really just in the data, not in the dead people.

Posted by: Guy Montag at March 11, 2007 5:25 AM

If you make a contention like that, please post a link. Otherwise, it's just a rumor.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 11, 2007 5:28 AM

I just came back from Rome (Italy), and I didn't see ANY overweight Italians. Considering their diet, which is high in carbs and cheese, you would think there would be. All the food I had was exceptionally high quality and natural, so it was very satisfying, which could explain why.

Posted by: Chris at March 11, 2007 8:04 AM

For what it's worth, there was recently a special on Swiss TV about transfats. There is indeed a difference between naturally occurring ones and those created by processing vegetable oils. Our bodies evolved to use the natural ones and can easily metabolize them. The ones created by industrial processing of vegetable oils largely do not occur in nature, and are apparently a health risk.

Here, the bakers are moving away from cheap processed fats *to* butter, to comply with the coming regulations. Of course, good bakers always used butter, and are now saying "I told you so"...

Posted by: Brad Richards at March 11, 2007 9:27 AM

The upside of this is that we might finally be able to get french fries cooked in lard, the way the Lord intended them to be!

So we get to stick it to the food nazis and the vegans at the same time!

Posted by: brian at March 11, 2007 9:49 AM

Thanks for the birthday wish, and a very happy belated to you, as well. Please don't feel too shittily about your eyes, Amy. I've been wearing glasses since 2nd grade and they've gotten progressively worse since that time. Birthdays don't make me feel old - it's the trip to my eye doctor every year to have my script upped b/c I'm pretty sure I'll be legally blind by 30.

Posted by: Gretchen at March 11, 2007 11:10 AM

There are lots of differences between northern and southern Europeans, not the least of which might very well involve their respective genetic heritages. Northerners have been selected over thousands of years for the ability to survive cold winters and caloric deprivation during those winters. I suspect that those in the Mediterranean regions do more walking year-round. Of course diet may very well play a part in coronary artery disease for them as well as for us, but it is hard to imagine how to control for all of these variables even in the best epidemiological study. Have the various studies controlled for average blood pressures, sodium and potassium intake, or lack of exposure to the sun during the winter? For instance, many meat products are heavily laced with salt (just like the french fries so beloved by Brits). The northern population has also adapted genetically to vitamin D deprivation by having overly light skin color, and there is no reason a priori to exclude this as a factor in heart disease any more than any other condition, since it brings along with it other adaptations including the body's use of the p53 gene for controlling melanocyte activation.

As to the trans fat issue: It's probably one of the more minor issues, but it gives politicians a juicy tidbit to talk about. The Los Angeles City Council spent a couple of hours chewing it over a few weeks ago -- it was amusing to notice that the two council members who actually have some scientific training sat quietly and did not choose to join in this exercise in popular entertainment.

As for Italians being thin, I suspect that this is as much their genetics as anything else, because if it were not, you would expect to see a substantial fraction of fat Italians; of course a fraction of Italians are fat actually, but the number is probably lower than what you would observe in the rural midwest. We can complicate the analysis even more by comparing the American offspring of people who immigrated from the old country, and here we see differences in height and weight that are statistically significant.

Posted by: Bob G at March 11, 2007 12:58 PM

I'm an expat American living in northern, German-speaking (Zurich) as well as in the southern, Italian-speaking part of Switzerland (Locarno), and can say that the European "secret" to weight control is quite simply portion control. Really, it's not any more complicated than that. We eat reasonable portions of any kind of food, accompanied by a moderate amount of wine, and usually no or a very small dessert. Moreover, it's not uncommon to see Europeans leave some of their meal uneaten. There's just not this culture of eating till you feel like bursting.

In the nearly 30 years I've lived here, I've never once heard a European rave about a restaurant because it serves generous portions, but I've heard many Americans say that about their restaurants. Amy has posted it here many times before: It's all about portion control. And no snacking. You don't even want to snack after having a quality European meal.

Sometimes I get the feeling that Americans regard each meal as if it's their last. Paradoxically, they also seem to view food as the enemy. Because they've got this culture of overeating, they are convinced that there must be some big secret to staying slim.

Oh, and that romantic notion of Europeans buying all their produce at open-air markets and their other groceries at specialty shops throughout town is not necessarily true. Sure, some do, sometimes, but we also (more and more) have the same kinds of huge supermarkets that you have in the US, with a ridiculous range of choice, and your typical family pushing around carts piled high with groceries. So it's not necessarily our shopping practices that are different. It really, simply, honestly comes down to ... portion control.

Posted by: Marie at March 11, 2007 11:12 PM

All hail the goddess Julia Child, who famously summed it up: "These days, people are afraid of their food".

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at March 12, 2007 7:33 AM

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