"Are we going to start to outlaw what everyone should eat in the city of Chicago? The City Council will be sitting in your kitchen to determine what you should eat on Sunday after church." - Mayor Richard Daley, ChicagoThe recently announced and much anticipated ban of trans fats in New York restaurants reminds me of the fois gras ban here in Chicago earlier this year. No one was there to enforce it and it looked like special interests (animal rights activists) got to tie up Chicago legislature with something that meant little to the general population, while ignoring other more pressing public health and safety issues. It was repealed a little over a month after it was signed into law. Will this new trans fat ban spread across the country or will the ban eventually be repealed? Right now, it's tough to know.
Now please understand that I tow the party line: trans fats are bad for you. There, I said it. They raise low density lipoproteins (LDL) and lower high density lipoproteins (HDL or "good cholesterol"). And trans fats are ubiquitous fixtures in our culinary landscape, adding plenty of calories to our diet.
But how many of us really know what fats our foods are cooked in? How many people inquire about this in restaurants? How many know a "good oil" from a "bad oil" in their kitchen? Will it matter to our obesity epidemic? Do you realize those Girl Scout cookies you love each year are cooked in trans fat oils? Will you care when a doe-eyed little girl asks you to purchase her cookies? No, you will purchase them to help her. Will you care if she can't raise funds for her cause selling cookies door to door in New York due to a ban on trans fats? You bet.
But like seat belt requirements in cars, there are occassionally good ideas that come from governmental regulation and legislation. Certainly adding seat belts to cars, and later air bags, has saved countless lives. Perhaps trans fat bannings will lower coronary deaths, but unlike tallying deaths from car accidents, proving cause and effect of heart attacks as they relate to trans fat consumption will be nearly impossible to prove. Will doctors look over the recently deceased in the Emergency Room and say, "Damn, we lost him from a trans fat overdose!" I think not. Dietary intake is just one risk factor for premature coronary deaths.
And most people don't even know the difference between a trans fat and a mono- or polyunsaturated fat. Sorry, they don't. But fat of any kind burns at 9 calories per gram while carbohydrates and protein burn at 4 calories per gram. Eating too many calories (including fat) of any kind means you're still likely to get fat.
But food companies can now pander to the uninformed. Already there are "trans fat free" food labels on your store shelves ... even when food companies still have their foods loaded with TONS of other forms of fats and calories. Another fad is born.
Now I ask you, what has the New York Health Department accomplished, really?