Thanks to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the new ban on trans-fats in the state of California went into effect on January 1, 2010.Of course, baked goods and deep fried foods have until 2011, as the purveyors of those foods complain that they just can’t do it yet.
Margarine and hydrogenated vegetable oils were an extra-cruel trick on vegetarians. We all ate the margarine, too, or even the french fries fried in healthy vegetable oil, unaware that the manipulated oil was doing far worse things to us than animal products.
Slowly but surely, the move to get trans-fats out of our food is progressing. It was in 2006 that the FDA started requiring manufacturers to list trans-fats on nutrition labels. It’s all aimed at the artificially hydrogenated fats that industry uses in industrial baked goods and deep frying, not the trace amounts of trans-fats found naturally in butter and meat.
Trans-fatty acids are almost a perfect example of the bizarre results that our modern food production system have wrought. Basically, natural vegetable oil is refined and hydrogenated to the point that it becomes toxic, all for the sake of making it solid, stable at high heat, and slow to spoil. We humans are too clever by half when it comes to making new foods. Adding a hydrogen molecule to the oil may have looked like a good idea on paper, but when the concoction enters your body, it wreaks havoc. The human body is an amazing machine, but when you create something brand new to throw in there, it may just not know what to do with it. In the case of trans-fats, the cheap, sold fat went straight to artery walls, clogging up the system faster than any real food possibly could.
We know this, but industry wields great power. Trans-fats have no redeeming nutritional qualities, but they are still in our food. Coffee cakes that sit on a shelf for months, and fryers full of oil that can be used for hours on end are just too essential to day to day life to let go.
The first ban on trans-fats was done in New York City, so many of the issues have been raised and, hopefully, worked out. The total ban had the unintended effect of outlawing butter-and that gave the whole effort a bad name, as bakers rent their garments and fell on their Croissant cutters in protest. The race to find new fats to use in baking has been like the race to get to the moon-big food has worked overtime to try to find ways to get that unctuous quality into foods without the trans. It’s a little scary, really, since they are applying the exact same modus operandi to the situation. New hyper-refined conglomerations of super starches and cleverly concocted oil processes will somehow break through to save the day. We can only hope that they don’t come up with something that we will have to ban in 20 years.
As always, eating real food is the best course, and avoiding processed or deep-fried foods will never steer you wrong. Real fats spoil, so foods that can sit for months on the shelf are suspect, plain and simple.