The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH -

trans fat ban, noted that “gov­ern­ment-spon­sored re­search led to the un­der­stand­ing that a prod­uct con­sid­ered safe for about 100 years was shown to be the most harm­ful fat in the food sup­ply.”

Lest there be any doubt as to the value of ban­ning trans fats, re­cent stud­ies have demon­strated a re­mark­able ben­e­fit to the hearts and lives of res­i­dents in places where gov­ern­ments re­stricted the use of par­tially hy­dro­genated oils years ago.

Den­mark was the first to act, ban­ning trans fats from food prod­ucts and vir­tu­ally elim­i­nat­ing them from that coun­try’s food sup­ply in 2004. Within three years, the ban had saved an av­er­age of 14.2 lives per 100,000 peo­ple a year, ac­cord­ing to a study in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Preven­tive Medicine.

Start­ing in 2007 in New York City, New York state pi­o­neered trans fat bans in this coun­try. Sci­en­tists from the agency and Eras­mus Univer­sity in Rot­ter­dam, the Nether­lands, an­a­lyzed death rates in New York coun­ties that for­bid ar­ti­fi­cially pro­duced trans fats in food sold in restau­rants and bak­eries. When death rates in these coun­ties were com­pared with those in sim­i­lar ar­eas with­out a ban, the re­searchers found that re­strict­ing trans fats re­sulted in 13 fewer car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease deaths and a sav­ing of about $3.9 mil­lion per 100,000 per­sons an­nu­ally.

A more re­cent study showed a com­pa­ra­ble de­cline in car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease rates as well. By com­par­ing coun­ties with and with­out a trans fat ban in food ser­vice es­tab­lish­ments, Dr. Eric J. Brandt, a car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease fel­low at Yale Univer­sity School of Medicine, found that three or more years later, heart at­tacks de­clined by 7.8 per cent and strokes by 3.6 per cent in coun­ties with the ban over and above what oc­curred in coun­ties with­out a ban, though the stroke numbers were not sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant.

In an in­ter­view, Brandt noted that many man­u­fac­tur­ers have sub­sti­tuted palm oil, which is high in sat­u­rated fat, for par­tially hy­dro­genated oils. He said, “Even when sat­u­rated fat is used in place of trans fat, there’s still a net ben­e­fit,” al­though a hearts­mart con­sumer should avoid too much sat­u­rated fat, in­clud­ing palm and coconut oil.

Brandt be­came in­ter­ested in trans fats as a stu­dent at Case Western Re­serve Univer­sity School of Medicine. In 2011 he pub­lished a pa­per point­ing out mis­lead­ing la­belling prac­tices that could re­sult in peo­ple un­wit­tingly con­sum­ing harm­ful lev­els of trans fats, a find­ing still rel­e­vant to­day. FDA la­belling rules al­low man­u­fac­tur­ers to list as zero any amount of trans fat less than half a gram per serv­ing. So, some­one who con­sumes only three serv­ings a day of foods that each con­tain 0.49 grams of trans fats would quickly ex­ceed that 0.5 gram level.

“There re­ally is no safe level for ar­ti­fi­cially pro­duced trans fat,” Brandt said. “It’s best to avoid all prod­ucts that have any par­tially hy­dro­genated oils.” He noted, how­ever, that less is bet­ter. Canada, among other coun­tries, lists trans fats down to a level of 0.1 gram per serv­ing and he won­dered why the United States doesn’t do like­wise.

Com­pli­cat­ing the trans fat pic­ture is the fact that there are nat­u­ral sources of this sub­stance, found in meats and dairy prod­ucts de­rived from ru­mi­nant an­i­mals — cows, sheep and goats.

“The jury is still out as to whether these are a haz­ard; the data are not clear about what nat­u­ral trans fat means from a health stand­point,” Brandt said. He added, how­ever, that “car­di­ol­o­gists mainly en­dorse a plant­based diet as the health­i­est op­tion.”


Den­mark was the first to act, ban­ning trans fats from food prod­ucts and vir­tu­ally elim­i­nat­ing them from that coun­try’s food sup­ply in 2004.

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