I was once a trans fat Â junkie, munching commercially baked, oh so tasty, cookies every day.Â That habit didn’t change until I had a quadruple heart bypass.
I must have cost the health care and insurance systems a lot of money.Â OK, not as much as a smoker or an alcoholic or a morbidly obese person perhaps, but still a lot of money. (I wonder what an obese, smoker, drinker, consumer of trans fats costs the system?)
Trans fats, listed on food labels as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, elevate “bad” cholesterol which clogs your arteries and decrease the “good” cholesterol which clean them.Â Hydrogenation makes a liquid oil more stable. Â The more hydrogenated the oil, the harder it is at room temperature. Â Hydrogenation also extends a productâ€™s shelf life by making it less susceptible to spoilage; the “best by” date could be weeks or even months later.
I didn’t think of it at the time, but I might have made a lot of money making a documentary about my heart being clogged by the Cookie Monster.Â That idea finally saw daylight in 2004 with a low-budget documentary Super Size Me which made $10 million, perhaps enough to cover the health care costs of its star who ate nothing but McDonald’s trans fat-laden food for a month.
My junking trans fats was a lonely experience.Â Now everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.Â
Universal Studios theme park in Hollywood changed its menus on Christmas Eve 2006, removing trans fats from its many junk food favorites.Â Darden Restaurants Inc., parent of the Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurant chains is the latest restaurant company to say it’s Â switching to trans fat-free canola oils. Â Starbuck’s, who know a trend when they see one, is doing the same.Â So’s Kentucky Fried Chicken.Â So’s Wendy’s.Â
So who’s left?
In 2003, five years after my clogged arteries were fixed, Denmark became the first country to strictly regulate trans fats.Â Now New York Cityâ€™s health board is prohibiting that cityâ€™s 20,000 restaurants from serving foods containing trans fats. Â A similar ban has been proposed in Chicago.
Where was all this bureaucratic regulation when I needed help?
Actually, I was lucky.Â Trans fats are linked to cancer, diabetes, liver toxicity, and obesity.Â I had the obesity â€“ I’ve got rid of that too, at no cost to the health care system â€“ but so far, touch wood, I’ve none of the other inflictions.
Like everything else that tastes good, trans fats have no nutritional benefits.Â They just make food tastier and ruin your health. Â To avoid them, all you need do is eat real, not processed, food.Â Â
That’s not as easy as it sounds.Â But if the ingredients listed on a food label look like the names of the Mongolian politburo, don’t eat the food.
We’re a long way removed from hunting and gathering in our stacked downtown apartments or even in our over-mortgaged boxes in our sprawling suburbs.Â But thinking like a hunter/gatherer helps: eat dairy products, fish, meat, fruits, grains, legumes, and vegetables.Â If that’s boring, liven things up by chewing on seeds, nuts, and sea-algae which also provide vital Omega oils. Â
If that diet still sounds like unappetizing rations on a “Survivor” show, just zero in on the word “survivor”.
And if you persist in thinking life could only be bearable with regular infusions of trans fat-laden junk food, try to imagine what a heart attack feels like.Â
I know waiting for, experiencing, and recovering from heart bypass surgery isn’t pleasant.Â But at least I survived into trans fat-free future to tell about it.