Happy Fourth of July. To celebrate our nation’s independence you will be eating those doughnuts, those pies, those cupcakes, brownies and other assorted goodies, without the extra flavoring that trans fats provide.
Oh, the horror.
Three years ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled that by this past June 18, all food manufacturers would have to find alternative fats for their products.
Since this is not a chemistry lesson, I won’t bore you by telling you partially hydrogenated oils (or trans fats) have been used to solidify vegetable oil by injecting them with hydrogen. I have no idea what that even means, as I just barely passed chemistry in high school, and that was only because the teacher liked me.
But that’s what it said when I looked it up.
Once upon a time, trans fats were seen as hugely beneficial — if you’ll pardon the expression — in the food chain. Its inventors won a Nobel Prize in 1912. And by the 1970s, trans fats became the be-all and end-all after palm and coconut oil were deemed too high in saturated fats.
Somewhere in my past, I learned about these things. That was then. This is now, and I don’t know what any of that means either. But it looks good, rattling off these terms, doesn’t it?
Jump ahead 20 years and studies emerged showing that the same trans fats that made your Twinkies and Ding Dongs taste better were sufficiently responsible for coronary artery disease and the increase of LDL (bad) cholesterol in our arteries.
For the record, LDL means low-density lipoprotein whereas its counterpart, HDL would be high-density lipoprotein. Don’t ask me what a lipoprotein is. I don’t know. But a sports nutritionist once gave me a handy-dandy way of differentiating between the two — HDL meant “healthy” and LDL meant “lousy.” So the presence of too much trans fat means the presence of “lousy” cholesterol, which increased the likelihood of blockages, angina, and heart attacks.
By 2013, the FDA decided that trans fats were no longer Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), which is a proper term for reasons I can’t understand. Two years later, the FDA ordered their banishment. And last month, that became a reality.
Now, as many of you may know, I’ve already had a triple bypass. Putting trans fats into my system should be akin to injecting poison into an IV tube connected to me. Talk about getting straight to the heart of the matter.
The problem with the foods most associated with trans fats is that they taste great and are addictive. They’re like the old Bert Lahr Lays Potato Chips commercials (for those who need an introduction, Bert Lahr played the “Cowardly Lion” in “The Wizard of Oz.”) Betcha can’t eat just one!
That’s how it is with me, anyway. If I eat a two-pack of Hostess Cupcakes on one day, I’ll be eating them for a week, and it’ll take an intervention and a visit to a rehab center for me to stop.
So, it’s been a while since I’ve had enough of a sampling of this type of junk food to be able to tell for sure whether the absence of trans fats have radically changed them. But I’m all for anything that at least attempts to make me healthier.
Of course, the food police can only go so far. Even without the presence of partially hydrogenated oils, there’s still plenty about eating doughnuts, or having a steady diet of pies, cakes and Italian pastry, that is not conducive to having a healthy heart.
But as the Fourth of July approaches, it leaves me wondering whether there are trans fats in hot dogs, and whether Joey Chestnut will drop dead in the process of wolfing down his customary 72 (which is how many he ate last year) at Nathan’s on Coney Island.