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STANDARDS

NGSS: Core Idea: PS1.A

CCSS: Literacy in Science: 7

TEKS: 6.3C, 7.3C, 8.3B, 8.5D

Fat Ban?

Global health officials aim to eliminate a type of fat that's linked to heart disease worldwide

ESSENTIAL QUESTION: Why do governments regulate ingredients in food? Provide examples and reasoning to support your answer.

Cookies, french fries, and doughnuts may be tasty, but it’s no secret that they’re also unhealthy. One thing that makes junk foods particularly bad for people is that many contain artificial trans fats. Food manufacturers add these fats to some products to prevent them from spoiling. But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), trans fats contribute to about half a million heart disease deaths a year worldwide.

That alarming statistic led the WHO to recommend last May that all countries remove trans fats from the food supply by 2023. The U.S. has already taken measures to eliminate these fats as of June 2018 (see How to Find Trans Fats in Your Food). “Public health policies like these are the best way to keep the largest number of people healthy,” explains Jennifer Pomeranz, a professor of public health at New York University in New York City.

Cookies, french fries, and doughnuts may be tasty, but they’re also unhealthy. That’s no secret. What makes junk foods so bad for people? One thing is that many contain artificial trans fats. Food manufacturers add these fats to some products. This stops them from spoiling. But the World Health Organization (WHO) says that trans fats help cause about half a million heart disease deaths worldwide. And that’s every year.

That shocking number led the WHO to make a suggestion last May. It said that all countries should remove trans fats from the food supply by 2023. The U.S. has already taken steps to get rid of these fats as of June 2018 (see How to Find Trans Fats in Your Food). “Public health policies like these are the best way to keep the largest number of people healthy,” explains Jennifer Pomeranz. She’s a professor of public health at New York University in New York City. 

LAB-MADE FATS

Food scientists created oils rich in trans fats in the early 1900s as an alternative to fats derived from animal and dairy products. Trans fats are made using a process called hydrogenation, which adds hydrogen (H) to vegetable oil. That causes trans fats to remain solid at room temperature (see Chemistry of Fats).

Food scientists created oils rich in trans fats in the early 1900s. These could be used instead of fats from animal and dairy products. Trans fats are made using a method called hydrogenation. It adds hydrogen (H) to vegetable oil. That causes trans fats to stay solid at room temperature (see Chemistry of Fats).

Food makers and restaurants quickly adopted the oils. The oils greatly increased the shelf lives of products and could be used more than once to fry foods, thereby saving money. People also assumed trans fats were healthier because they were made from vegetable oil, says Harini Sampath, a nutrition scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey. But by the 1970s, scientists had discovered that wasn’t the case.

Food makers and restaurants quickly started using the oils. The oils made products last much longer, and they could be used more than once to fry foods. That saved money. People also thought trans fats were healthier because they were made from vegetable oil, says Harini Sampath. She’s a nutrition scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey. But by the 1970s, scientists had found that wasn’t true. 

UNHEALTHY CHEMISTRY

Trans fats interact with a person’s cholesterol—a waxy substance needed to make essential chemicals in the body. Trans fats elevate low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, which can clog arteries—blood vessels that transport blood throughout your body—raising the risk of heart disease. Trans fats also decrease high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol, which helps reduce LDL.

Trans fats affect a person’s cholesterol. This waxy substance is needed to make important chemicals in the body. Trans fats raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol. LDL can clog arteries—blood vessels that carry blood throughout your body. That raises the risk of heart disease. Trans fats also decrease high-density lipoprotein (HDL). This “good” cholesterol helps lower LDL. 

ARSHAD ARBAB/EPA/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

GLOBAL PROBLEM: Even though trans fats have been banned in the U.S., they are still commonly used to fry treats in South Asian countries, like Pakistan, which has high rates of heart disease.

 

Sampath says that the best replacement for trans fats are natural, unsaturated vegetable oils, as well as saturated fats, like butter. She and Pomeranz believe that eliminating trans fats is valuable, but avoiding processed foods and those high in sugar is even more important. Instead, people should eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

What’s the best replacement for trans fats? Sampath points to natural, unsaturated vegetable oils and saturated fats, like butter. She and Pomeranz believe that cutting trans fats is helpful, but that something else is even more important. Stay away from processed foods and those high in sugar. Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains instead. 

CORE QUESTION: Do you agree with the WHO’s recommendation to ban trans fats? Use evidence to support your opinion.

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