The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has taken another step to protect Americans from themselves, in action this week that mandates removal of artificial trans fats from the American diet by 2018. In effect, however, it is close to a non-action, because up to 80 percent of formerly common trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) have already disappeared from food, either eliminated entirely or replaced by other ingredients, flavorings and preservatives. The current ban, though, will affect restaurants as well as food producers. The cost estimate partially hydrogenated oils completely is estimated to run companies as much as $10 to $12 billion.
Do you know what a trans fat is?
Put away your margarine, people; don’t buy any more microwave popcorn until its ingredients are altered, and be watchful as you shop for snack foods. Check those labels carefully – even if they proclaim there are no trans fats per serving. Be wary because products like Crisco are so borderline that using Gramma’s favorite ingredient to make your piecrust may put you at risk. Current rules state that labels can legally state 0 trans fats if the content is less than 0.5 grams per serving; but one never can know how much of a suspect ingredient is contained in a piece of pie. Does it depend on the size of the serving or the flakiness of the crust, do you suppose?
Popular refrigerator rolls and ready-to-spread frostings? Oh, no! Ice cream sprinkles and cookie decorations? Banished. Pick up a frozen pizza on your way home from work to please the kids? Stop to get a frozen dessert on your way to a friend’s house for dinner? Frozen dinners and a favorite movie? Oops – no more! Twinkies and Little Debbie? Bye-bye, boo-hoo.
That’s assuming, of course, that the ruling stands; that petitions for exceptions to the new guidelines are denied; and that the rules don’t change before 2018 when they become mandatory. It was only in 2006 that listing trans fats on a label became a requirement at all.
Change is constant
Of course, things may well change before 2018, just as this week’s announcement that a daily ration of chocolate is probably good for people reverses previous advice. We have been led to believe that the only good chocolate was the super dark variety, and then only occasionally. But this week, milk chocolate lovers can go back to buying their favorite bars. Just limit your intake to “4 squares” a day!
Health information on coffee, wine, sugar and sugar substitutes, cholesterol, carbohydrates, animal fat and even lack of fat has been amended, modified, studied, discussed and completely reversed several times in recent years.
We all know that the food pyramid, that colorful chart that told us how much of certain kinds of food were required for a healthy diet, has become a divided plate, introduced in 2011 by First Lady Michelle Obama and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack as a healthy foods and recommended portion reminder. Interestingly, however, the overweight and obesity numbers in this country have only increased.
Feeling like a lab rat?
Children of the 40s and 50s who grew up in dairy states believed that squeezing little pods of coloring into sticks of uncolored margarine was a normal pre-dinner activity. (If you don’t know what that means, you’re too young to remember that it was produced that way so that no one would be fooled into thinking that margarine was actually natural butter.) That was, of course, before olive oil became the chichi culinary product. That was also when Southern Fried Chicken was a Sunday dinner regular, when milk shakes were more popular than diet sodas and when kids asked for bread and butter sandwiches as after-school treats.
Then, for several decades, health conscious Americans were warned that butter was the devil’s product, that fats (all of them) were as unhealthy as it gets, and that processing, refining, purifying and altering natural foods only made it all better. In those days, it would have been unheard of to discuss such things as antioxidants, fiber content and Omega-3 fatty acids, much less to worry about them.
But, those were the days, if you can imagine such a thing, when food tasted the way food should taste, when families grew their own vegetables, when farmers mingled with townsfolk in most cities nationwide, and when everyone from 9 to 90 knew where food came from, how it was supposed to taste, and the best time to plant an onion or pick a tomato.
Those were also the days, in this country, when obesity was seldom a problem, when kids shared their healthy, brought-from-home lunches at school and went outside for recess, when families cooked together and ate at home at the family table, and when food was entirely real if not always plentiful.
Would that labeling or controlling ingredients could signal a return to those days. This latest government ruling has been greeted with less than universal approval. Do you have an opinion? Please share.