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November 20, 2013

THEIR VIEW: A trans fat ban helps us all

A government plan to ban trans fats is good news for our collective health - despite critics’ claims that the Food and Drug Administration is overstepping its regulatory authority.

Scientists are unanimous that consuming trans fats raises a person’s chances of having a heart attack. So the government is moving toward a decree that food manufacturers may no longer use the artificial additive that gives food have a longer shelf-life and a less greasy feel.

Some doctors consider trans-fatty acids the worst type of fat because they both raise “bad” (LDL) cholesterol while lowering “good” (HDL) cholesterol. These acids are made by hydrogenation, or infusing vegetable oil with hydrogen. It’s not clear why but this process increases cholesterol more than in other types of fats.

So the government is trying to save lives with a proposed ban. The Food and Drug Administration predicts it will prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths a year.

Food manufacturers don’t seem particularly upset. They’ll go on making their products, with or without trans fats, and continue to realize profits. Alternatives already exist.

But the outrage from others is predictable. Forget the lives being saved, this is yet another example of the government trying to control some aspect of people’s lives.

Consider these two elements: Not everybody is equipped to save oneself from nutritional peril, and needless exposure to heart disease costs us all in Medicare and Medicaid expenditures.

If the debate over the people’s right to choose trans fats involved informed choice, there might not be any debate at all. Intelligent adults armed with the information they need can indeed decide their own diet without the government’s help.

But not everyone is an intelligent adult. What about millions of children who visit vending machines stuffed with bags of snacks with unhealthy ingredients? Should they be left to their own discretion in deciding what to eat? We should be thankful that somebody is looking out for them.

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