Thursday, April 14, 2011

Trans fat ban in Illinois on the Senate Floor

A Healthier Illinois?

The Illinois House of representatives has passed House Bill 1600 which would ban trans fat in restaurants and schools vending machines by the year 2013 as well as school cafeterias by 2016. The Bill is must now go before the Senate before it is law.

Do you disagree or agree with Mr. Pritchard? Without further knowledge regarding trans fat, what Mr. Pritchard says prima facie is hard to argue with. "This...legislation is overreaching where government is going to direct every part of our life." Who wants the government to be directing our life? Not me. Probably not you either. At face value what Mr. Pritchard is saying may very likely illicit a strong emotional reaction against any such legislation that may "direct every part of our life."

Let's talk briefly about trans fat, what it is, and what it's effects are on the human body. Trans fat is found in small amounts in meat in diary. However we get the majority of the trans fat we eat from processed foods. Trans fat gets into processed food when food manufacturers perform a process called "hydrogenation." Hydrogenation occurs when vegetable oil is heated to very high temperatures and hydrogen is added to the oil. This makes the oil (fat) nearly solid at room temperature which allows for better transportation of food, better taste and longer shelf life.

However, eating foods with trans fat has been linked over and over again to higher levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of good cholesterol (HDL). High levels of LDL causes cholesterol to build in the arteries making them narrow and allowing less blood to flow to the heart. This build-up, or plaque, can lead to an increase risk of heart disease and stroke. On the contrary, HDL is good for your heart as lipoproteins carry the “bad” cholesterol out of your arteries and back to your liver for processing.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that for each additional 2% of calories from trans fat added to your diet, your chances of developing coronary heart disease increase by 23%.1 It is recommended that you keep your levels of trans fat to as close to zero as possible, with 2 grams per day being the highest amount you should ingest.2
The problem with putting trans fat in restaurant food is that restaurants are not required by law to post their nutritional data. Therefore, if you want to avoid trans fat in a restaurant you are not given the information you need to make that decision.
The problem with putting trans fat into schools and school cafeteria food is more obvious: we should never be feeding our children something that is not healthy for them to eat.
After a little more information regarding trans fat, Mr. Pritchard's statement doesn't make quite as much sense. In my opinion, it is exactly the job of the government to regulate food served in schools in an effort to ensure those foods are healthy for our children to eat. Additionally, if Mr. Pritchard does not want an outright ban on trans fat in restaurants, wouldn't it make more sense to at least give consumers accurate information regarding the amount of trans fat in the food they order and the direct effects that food may have on our bodies?
It is true that most people do not want the government directing every part of our lives, but with an absence of information needed to make informed decisions, we as consumers are not able to direct our lives in a way that is best for us.

  1. Mozaffarian D, Katan MB, Ascherio A, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. 2006; 354:1601-13.


Nick said...

Ban it. Ban it now. This is a good example of WHEN the government should step in. Trans fat literally, and I mean literally, has no nutrional value whatsoever to anyone in any place ever. Heroin has more of a purpose in this world for humans than trans fat (I'm not kidding, I actually believe this). I mean, you have to be crappy to be below heroin.

Christina Gilman said...

It is very interesting how the U.S. government makes a big deal about drugs like heroin, cocaine, and marijuana when eating bad foods over time can cause life-threatening diseases and general degeneration of your body thus enjoyment for life. Although drugs like heroin can cause a much quicker demise, food can be just as life-threatening as those drugs in the long run.