It's often hard for me to figure out if health claims are legit. One day a study says caffeine isn't harmful, the next day research says it is. We're bombarded with mixed messages about food that are difficult even for the experts to judge.
That doesn't seem to be the case with trans fats, though. The National Academy of Sciences, a fairly reputable group, has concluded that the optimal intake of trans fats should be zero. In addition, Dr. Walter Willett and researchers at Harvard University estimate that if trans fats were removed from our diets, up to 228,000 heart attacks could be prevented.
Public health officials claim that not only do trans fats have similar heart-clogging abilities as saturated fats, but they also reduce the good cholesterol that works to clear arteries.
There are plenty of studies that point to trans fats connections to obesity, too. Personally, I think we just plain eat too much.
Let's back up. Trans fats are formed when liquid oils, like soybean oil, are partially hydrogenated (adding hydrogen) in order to make them into solid fats like shortening and margarine. The process helps lengthen shelf life and flavor stability of foods. Trans fats are especially common in baked goods and frying oils, and some say if replaced change the taste of foods like our beloved French fries. Soybean oil accounts for about 80% of the edible oil consumed in the U.S.
Next month, New York City will vote on an initiative to prohibit the city's 20,000 restaurants from serving foods that contain more than a minute amount of trans fats. Restaurant owners, of course, are up in arms. They claim banning trans fats would raise their costs and change the taste of some of their menu items.
New York City Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden compares the proposed ban to the city's ban on use of lead paint back in the 1960s, years before much of the country followed suit.
As he stated in The New York Times, “Like lead paint, artificial trans fat in food is invisible and dangerous, and it can be replaced. No one will miss it when it is gone.”
Chicago is also considering a similar prohibition affecting restaurants with less than $20 million in annual sales.
Overseas, Denmark imposed a ban in 2003 on all processed foods containing more than 2% of trans fat for every 100 grams of fat. Canada is considering a similar ban. Even Disney has said it will remove trans fats from its theme park's foods by next year.
Forgive the cliché, but it appears the writing is on the wall: Cut out trans fats.
The soybean industry is on the right track with low-linolenic varieties, but maybe not moving fast enough.
Low-lin soybeans are low in linolenic acid, which is an unsaturated fatty acid that causes food to become stale or rancid. Most soybean varieties contain 7% linolenic acid; low-lins contain about 1%, a level that doesn't require hydrogenation for flavor and shelf stability.
According to the United Soybean Board's Qualisoy initiative, there are four available trait-enhanced soybean oils available: Vistive, Treus, Asoyia and Advantage.
Last year, those brands produced 200 million pounds of low-linolenic soybean oil. This year it should hit 450 million pounds. And in 2007, the forecast is to hit a whopping 1 billion pounds from 2.5 million acres. That's still a long way from the 8 billion pounds of edible soybean oil that was used last year in the U.S., but it's a start.
Watch what happens in New York City's vote next month to ban trans fats. It could be a good barometer for how quickly the industry should move forward.
Don't forget to sign up for our magazine's 2007 Conservation Tillage Conference & Expo Jan. 30-31, 2007, in Sioux Falls, SD. This year's program theme is “Eye On Energy,” and explores how energy prices affect conservation tillage.
Kicking off the general session will be risk management expert Moe Russell, along with a farmer panel. Plus, there will be four breakout sessions:
To register, visit www.tillageconference.com or call 800-722-5334, ext. 14698.