Two Boca Restaurants Are Getting the (Trans) Fat Out

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A December 15, 2006 piece by John Johnston and Dale M. King quotes ACSH's Jeff Stier and ACSH's report on trans fats:

"[I]f a simple switch to 'healthier' oils would make us healthier, we'd be all for it. But it won't," says Jeff Stier.

Stier, an associate director of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) then asks:

"Will the 'healthier' oils have no effect on taste? It's not as if you can fry French fries in olive oil and get the same great-tasting fry. So all of the disruption caused by this ban is just one step down the slippery slope toward banning more food ingredients. (Is high-fructose corn syrup next?"

But what about all the health concern claims?

Stier said: "The trans fat ban would only have clear benefits if it were to cause a general reduction in over consumption (whatever that is) of high-fat foods -- but a restaurant ban on one ingredient is a pretty inefficient way of getting to that result.

"And any increase in costs to consumers without corresponding benefits is a waste of money," Stier adds.

Some have argued that switching to non-trans fat oils will be no more expensive. "This is untrue on its face, since restaurants obviously use the least expensive oil they can get away with while pleasing their customers. That oil, until now, has been the partially hydrogenated type, which gives foods the stability restaurants need, the flavor and 'mouthfeel' consumers demand, and the trans fats that activists are scaring us about," said Stier.

A recent report in the St. Louis Post Dispatch also argues that costs to consumers will inevitably rise because farmers are now being forced to reconsider which type of soybeans to grow. Farmers will have to start growing a special type of soybean -- low-linolenic soybeans -- which provide more stability without partial hydrogenation.

"How quickly can farmers add 1.5 million acres of this type of soybean?" asks Stier. "Will they produce the same yield per acre? How will they have to be stored to keep them separate from the other types of soybeans? Will enough seeds be available in time? Each of these decisions represents a risk to farmers -- and if they don't get exactly the right answer to each, their costs, and the costs of the oil, will have to rise. Those costs will quickly be passed to the consumer."

Stier concludes, "If this cost reduced our risk of getting heart disease, it might be worth it. But since it doesn't, this is just another example of activists increasing the cost but not the quality (or length) of living."

The ACSH itself offers the following two words of caution:

"As part of an overall effort to reduce risk factors for heart disease, advice to the public to limit consumption of both saturated fatty acids and TFAs by substituting polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats whenever possible is justified by the scientific evidence. Scare tactics, including claims that there should be zero tolerance for TFAs in the food supply, are not justified.

"Overstating the health effects of TFAs is harmful to public health because it promotes an overemphasis on this single dietary factor as opposed to other aspects of diet, other risk factors for coronary heart disease, and other public health priorities. By drawing attention away from other, more significant health risks, the current exaggerated focus on TFAs may actually cause more problems than it solves."