Sometimes late at night I like to imagine myself as Supreme Empress of Health Care. Yes, I understand that America is a republic, but we need some major health care over hauling from someone who will A) actually get things done, B) think about the health of the nation as the political agenda, and C) never grant an audience to a lobbyist.

My first act as Supreme Empress will be to ban trans fats. Yes, I know everyone is slagging on sugar, but it’s not really the rat poison that it’s portrayed to be. Yes, we Americans eat a lot more sugar than we should and diets high in sugar do increase the risk of diabetes and obesity. But let’s not forget that sugar is in every fruit and vegetable. It’s why a ripe peach is heavenly and a roasted beet, divine. The sugar molecule itself isn’t bad, it’s the Coke, Pepsi, and those little powdered donuts that are.

The same cannot be said of trans fats. Trans fats are unsaturated fats (plant oils) that have been modified so they are easier to use commercially. They’re in that unique food group that my kids call McChemicals. As an aside, there are some natural trans fats, called ruminant trans fats found in small quantities in meat and dairy products. Studies indicate that ruminant trans fats do not carry the same risk as the McChemical trans fats, so the ban proposed by HRH the Supreme Empress of Health only refers to the McChemical kind.

Trans fats lower good cholesterol (HDL), raise bad cholesterol (LDL), and increase the risk of heart disease. Trans fats also increase inflammation in the body (not a good thing) and animal studies tell us that offspring exposed to trans fats during pregnancy have brain inflammation that affects hunger signaling and are more likely to be obese. So, trans fats appear to be harming future generations before they are even born.

Artificial trans fats are so unhealthy that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires the content be listed on food labels. The problem? If there is less than 0.5 g per serving the food can claim to be trans fat free. (Hey FDA, what IS that all whole “free” and “zero” meaning < 0.5 about anyway? You want to redefine “the” while you’re at it as well?). So, you only know if food is really free of all trans fats by reading the label and looking for the term partially hydrogenated oil. Sigh.

Most researchers believe there is no safe lower limit of trans fats and many believe they are be the worst macronutrient when it comes to increasing the risk of heart disease. Even worse than our old friend sugar. Some estimates put the deaths directly attributable to trans fats between 30,000 and 100,000 a year.

Despite the known toxicity of trans fats the official recommendation is to keep the intake at less that 1% of total calories for the day. With a 2,000 calorie a day diet, that’s less than 2 g a day of trans fats. Duncan Hines frosting has 1.5 g of trans fats in 2 tablespoons, and everyone stops at 2 tbsp, right? Given how many foods contain trans fats, it’s very easy to surpass the daily requirements before you even get to desert.

Some foods, like trans fats, are born bad – there is simply no biologically justifiable excuse for their existence. Accordingly, when I am the Supreme Empress of Health Care my first decree will be the banning of trans fats. This move will cost the government nothing, the tens of thousands of fewer cases of heart disease will save millions and millions of Medicaid and Medicare dollars, and it will save lives. I just don’t see the down side (then again, I’m not the CEO of General Mills or Nabisco).

Lead was removed from paint and mercury from thermometers. Why should food safety be any different?


Girl Scouts, Samoas. Nutritional label says 0 g of trans fats, but ingredients list says otherwise (the 2nd ingredient, no less).

Label for Girl Scout Samoas says 0g trans fats, but ingredient list indicates otherwise




Join the Conversation


  1. The problem with your line of thinking is that it’s working in a vacuum. If you remove trans fats from a product, saturated fats increases in kind. For example, a product has 2g of saturated fat and 2g of trans fat. You remove the trans fat and the saturated fat increases by the same amount so now you have 4g of saturated fat.

    How is that better? Saturated fats are worse for you than trans fats ever were.

    And don’t assume that it won’t cost anything. It will cost jobs. Trans-fat free oils cost more than trans-fat full oils. Raise the costs in one area and I’m sure costs will be trimmed in others, i.e. jobs.

    The reason they cost more is because it’s new chemical process. There aren’t enough companies providing the product as well. Theists can ignore the lack of evidence as to the existence of their Jewish Zombie God, but no one can ignore the law of supply and demand.

    1. The argument that banning trans-fats will cost the government nothing does ignore that it will cost consumers more. Jen brings up the banning of lead in paint. Indeed, when titanium oxide replaced lead in paints, the cost of paint went up quite a bit.

      But even still, an argument based on cost-benefit can be made with regard to trans-fats. And I suspect the benefit of banning trans-fats would likely outweigh the cost.

      Strange world we live in when we say eat lard not peanut oil. 😛

  2. I was with you all the way until that picture of Samoas, my one weakness, as Dorcas Lane of PBS fame would say.

  3. I’m with you on this one all the way! I don’t understand why sugar is so demonized these days. I heard an NPR interview with Dr. Lustig recently and he said something to the effect that humans used to gorge themselves on sugary foods like fruits only once a year when they were ripe. (Obviously he was speaking from a long range evolutionary viewpoint.) But as an anthropology major in undergrad many years ago, that doesn’t jive with what I was learning about excavations of human habitations from way back around the last ice age. Humans have been preserving/storing foods like fruits and grains for a very, very long time. We’ve also been eating saturated fats (and certainly gorging on them whenever possible) for a very, very long time. Our bodies have evolved to process these types of foods/calories/chemical combinations (’cause it’s all about chemical/molecular combinations according to the “new food scientists”, right?); that isn’t the case with McChemicals like trans fats and high fructose corn syrup.

  4. I love all the comments here. Especially Jaime’s, mostly for the lol factor. I’d really like to see the data that backs up removing the trans fat increases the saturated fat. Troll – Go troll somewhere else.

  5. After my last health screening in Feburary when my cholesterol levels came back with my HDL at 40 and my LDL at 141, I’m going to have to agree with the good doctor here. Despite the fact that I might be able to attribute those levels to family history, my triglycerides (which are also supposed to royally jacked up in family history of high BAD cholesterol) came back in the double digits…so yeah, I’m totally going to blame the trans fat here.

    I’m totally going to keep a close eye out for that “partially hydrogenated oil” on the good I purchase, and hope avoiding those fixes this LDL problem of mine! Thanks for this post, Jen!

    *sigh* This does mean I’m going to have to go easy on those Samoas next year, though…

  6. Thanks for the heads-up regarding the FDA rounding down anything 0.5 g/serving, the manufacturer can then re-define their serving size, so they can continue to falsely advertise their products as trans fat free?

  7. One reason (environmental or personal) to cut down on dietary saturated fats is adipocere or as it is more commonly called, grave wax or saponification. After death, the body does not deteriorate but transforms into a waxy substance that can remain centuries after death (the shape of the body is readily identifiable). The less fat you have on your body, the less likely this will happen.

  8. Plus: many trans fats come from palm oil.
    Palm oil is harvested from palm trees, planted on soil where rain forests used to be.
    Just ban trans fat. It should’ve been banned ages ago.

  9. Simple.
    Cheap to mass grow, cheap to process, cheap to ship and sell. If I remember correctly hydrogenated oil does not go rancid as quickly.

    They are unhealthy, should have been banned, but it all depends on manufacturers and trade agreements.

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