The federal Food and Drug Administration plans soon to outlaw trans fats in our food supply. Good. It’s about time.
It has long been established that trans fats raise levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), according to the Mayo Clinic website. Trans fats lead to clogged arteries and heart attacks.
Trans fats are created by bubbling hydrogen gas through vegetable oil, which through the “wonders” of chemistry, makes the oil remain fairly solid at room temperature. Such fats, we are told, can prolong shelf life of products and produce a less-greasy feel to the palate.
Culprits include many kinds of cookies, cakes, canned frostings, French fries, pie crusts, shortening, microwave popcorn, powdered coffee creamers, potato chips and other processed foods. To their credit, some fast-food chains (McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, to name just three) have eliminated trans fats from their foods.
Like many people, I do not like the idea of “food police” determining what we can and cannot consume. However, trans fats should be banned. There is apparently no good excuse for using such fats, other than prolonging shelf life of products. It’s doubtful if trans fats add much in the way of taste. For example, McDonald’s French fries are every bit as good without trans fats as they used to be with them.
In an ideal world, we should all make healthy food choices based on a knowledge of nutrition and knowing how to read food-product labels. I’m grateful for the law mandating nutrition labels, which I consult quite often. However, I’ve found through the years reading food labels can often be a frustrating game of hide-and-seek. For instance, the tub margarine I’ve been using for years on my toast every morning claims to contain “0 trans fat.” Just the other day, I learned the FDA allows manufacturers to claim “0 trans fat” as long as the trans fat does not exceed 0.5 grams per serving. A serving is one tablespoon of that particular margarine. A total trans-fat ban, let us hope, removes such “loopholes.”
Sodium, in my opinion, is another ingredient the FDA should ban – or at least limit in our foods. Most people, I would bet, have no clue as to how our food products are sodium-saturated. I didn’t know until doctors recommended I start a low-sodium diet.
The average person should consume no more than 2,000 milligrams of salt each day. Who, you might ask, would eat THAT much salt? OK, here’s a little homework project: Open your kitchen cupboards and check the sodium amounts on the labels of each of the food products. You’ll soon see how easy it is to consume far more than 2,000 milligrams daily. The average person’s salt intake is 3,400 milligrams daily, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
One day, to start my low-salt diet, I spent hours in a grocery store scrutinizing labels on favorite products I often use in cooking. I was stunned. Here are just a few of the results: 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 38 percent of daily value (recommended daily amount); one-half cup of canned cream of mushroom soup, 35 percent, two teaspoons (dry) of chicken-broth powder, 37 percent; one-half cup of jar spaghetti sauce, 17 percent. Beware of “low” or “reduced” sodium advertising claims, not to mention the same claims for fats. In many cases, those claims amount to nothing. A small amount of sodium is vital for life (some fat too). Sodium occurs naturally in foods, even in vegetables. The problem arises when manufacturers pour so much of the stuff into their products.
I don’t have enough space in this column to address the sugar epidemic. Suffice to say that trans fats, sodium, sugar and other ingredients added to processed foods constitute a public-health hazard. We should all try to become more nutritionally educated. Eat more fresh products; consume a variety; cook from scratch; avoid convenience foods; exercise. Yes, we should do those things. In the meantime, the FDA should help us out by banning or limiting harmful additives.