Thursday, January 3, 2008


You know by now what a wacky healthnut I am. And it hardly even matters that I'm always right about everything. It's just a little freaky, the way I am, and that makes you uneasy. I understand that. Of course I do. I understand everything. But you'll have to put aside your narrow-mindedness once more, and sit at my feet for today's lesson. How else will you come to understand what is good and right? It's what I'm here for. You're so lucky to have me. I'm like a guru or something. I'm just unbelievable. People are always telling me that.

As even you will finally have heard, transfats are a problem. They're not-saturated fats that have been altered to act like saturated fats -- solidish at room temperature. Very stable, long-lasting, high-temperature for cooking, less or no need for refrigeration, inexpensive, kosher -- and so very convenient for manufacturers and retailers. Hmm. Doesn't it seem odd that food should be manufactured? What a strange idea.

What do they do in one's diet? Raise the likelihood of heart disease. Raise bad (LDL) and lower good (HDL) cholesterol. Of course there is no bad cholesterol -- it's the ratio that's important. Transfats are demonstrably worse than animal fats in terms of heart health (understanding that transfats occur in small amounts naturally in animal fats, but do not act in the same toxic way). Risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) doubles for every 2% increase in the diet, contrasted to 15% for saturated fats. That same incremental 2% rise of transfats at the cost of carb calories increases the risk of ovulatory infertility by 73 percent.

Other problems? Evidence suggests an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, liver dysfunction, and prostate cancer. There is no consensus regarding these risks, because of the obvious confounding factor of generally poor dietary choices. Donuts have a lot of transfats, but people who eat a lot of them aren't obese or diabetic because of the transfats. These benighted souls are not likely to be eating a sufficient number of daily servings of fruits and veggies, if you get my meaning.

On the other hand, over a span of six years in two groups of monkeys with the same caloric intake, the transfat group gained 7.2% of their body weight, while the mono-unsaturated fat gained only 1.8 percent. My theory would be that the transfat calories were less available metabolically, so the monkeys responded by lowering their body temperatures, and by getting less exercise.

The NAS reports that there is no safe amount of dietary transfats. There is an opposite of an RDA -- in other words, the recommended daily allowance is zero. There is no tolerable upper limit, because any increase raises the risk of heart disease, and most likely these other problems as well. That's all ugly enough. Uglier still is the fact that transfats show up in mother's milk -- up to 7% of the calories in, of all places, Canada. That's an average. Some poor babies are getting a mouthful.

Our systems cannot readily break down transfats, so they remain in the blood much longer -- plaquing the veins, the way insane people smear feces all over their cell walls. So that's a problem. And there's all that CHD and obesity and stuff. But a more subtle problem is this. A cell is like a water balloon, with the cell membrane holding it all together. Cell membranes are made up of fats, of lipids. Cells take lipids out of the blood to build and repair the membrane. Polyunsaturated fats are ideal, because they're nice and rubbery, flexible. This is important because the cell receptors, the doors that allow nutrients and information to pass through the membranes, have to stretch open and then resume their closed shape. But a transfat, a Frankenfat, looks pretty much like an unsaturated fat, so a cell will use it just as readily. The problem is, transfats are not rubbery. They're plasticky. They take the place but do not do the job of a good lipid.

So your cells don't function in a healthy, in a youthful way. They act like old plastic milk cartons that have been out in the sun for years. Brittle. Not supple and rubbery and sexy. So your cells starve, slowly. See? The ramifications are beyond the grasp of your poor intellect. How I pity you. There is a way to fix it, sort of, your plastic body. Get plenty of omega 3 in your diet. Flax, fish oil. Little by little, the transfats will be replaced.

The FDA is sort of protecting us, by requiring labeling. But half a gram of transfats per serving gets a rating of "transfat FREE". Half a gram doesn't sound like much. But that's about 5 calories. If a serving is a hundred calories, that's 5% of your calories. So it turns out to be very much indeed. What are we, Canadian babies?

I'm writing all this, though, not because I care about you. I only care about myself. Don't you know that yet? No wonder you keep hooking up with all these abusive and emotionally unavailable boyfriends of yours. The reason I'm writing this is that I heard some talk radio guy just now complaining about how government is interfering where it don't belong. NY City has banned transfats in restaurants. More lefties and Nanny Statists poking their long noses in where they don't belong. Same with smoking bans, he says. People who don't smoke can go to another restaurant, where the owner has chosen to keep out the smoking. See? The market place at work.

A few problems with such reasoning, like children in restaurants exposed to second hand smoke, because of ignorant, indifferent or otherwise stupid parents. We don't raise other people's kids, but we look out for them. As for transfats, as long as health care is paid for by the tax payers -- and it is, to a measurable degree, even for you (are you planning on opting out of Medicare?) -- then government has the obligation to promote some sort of preventive health care. Does the government have the right to regulate a legal activity? Sex in public. There are community standards, which can forbid lawful activities.

The talk show guy questioned how the bureaucrats could say what ingredients could go in food. Well, it regulates the level of rat feces you get in your hot dogs. He might object that rat feces is not an ingredient. I would agree that it's not in the recipe, but I'd also say he's quibbling about "ingredients", and tell him to pick a word he's happy with so we can move on. I'd say that regardless of how he'd characterize tranfats, he could not say it was actual food, like nutritious, you know? I'd ask him why he thinks we should be sold things that are not food, to eat. He would resort to his conservative position, that government should stay out of it. I'd reply by pointing to the Constitution, which requires that government "promote the general welfare". I'd suggest that part of promoting health is discouraging what manifestly has an inverse and parabolic relationship between economic benefit to the seller, and health benefit to the buyer. As long as recreational drugs are unlawful, or lead paint on your child's toys, this precept would be hard to refute.

As I've said, I used to be a registered Libertarian. In many ways I still think that way. But government, by its nature, limits freedom. That's why I prefer the word liberty -- which places freedom in the responsible context of society and its many obligations and demands upon us. The savage is free. Civilized men have liberty. And adults understand that however pleasing some theory may be, about human nature, the sad reality is that almost everyone is stupid and self-destructive, and it is only the coercive force behind just laws that allows us to sleep peaceably in our beds. Transfats may seem a far cry from the midnight marauder. But they'll stop your heart just as surely, for all that they'll take decades to do it.



Ms.Green said...

So if manufacture food is bad for us, what about Star Trek's replicator food?

And don't tell me Star Trek isn't real - that it's just a show. I couldn't bear it.

BTW - what does fuxklop really mean anyway? That was your word verification du jour.

Jack H said...

Oh, the Star Trek food is fine, if you don't mind your blood turning green. But YOU wouldn't, now, would you. The ST food is okay because replicators use quantum flux stabilizers. Duh.

I'm sorry about the fuxklop. Sometimes my enthusiasm overtakes my judgment.

Anonymous said...

As for transfats, as long as health care is paid for by the tax payers ... then government has the obligation to promote some sort of preventive health care.

Then, I say the answer to the dilemma is to stop making taxpayers pay for the medical care of others through social programs, and let those who choose to eat and live unhealthily bear the full brunt of their own medical bills.

As long as the prudent (such as yourself) are subsidizing the actions of the foolish (via government coercion disguised as "charity"), the foolish will have absolutely no financial incentives for changing their self-destructive ways.

Jack H said...

You are entirely correct, in theory. We both know the reality is that this good idea will never happen. Given that sad fact, what then is a *practicable* solution? Alas, regulation. The arguments hold for drug use, and speed limits, and education. We should all act responsibly. Even *you* don't though, completely, now do you. Madison said that if men were angels there would be no need of government. Attack it from either side, and you see that there is a need of government.

Aside from the obnoxiousness of having bureaucrats tell us what to do, what real objection is there to forbidding the addition of a convenient poison to food? It's not like imposing low-flow toilets, that just don't, uh, do the job. There are equivalent options for sellers, cheap and easy. It's not 1910 anymore, with no refrigeration. Likewise, you do not want to eat transfats, and there's absolutely no reason they should be in food. It's like cutting your cocaine with, uh, rat poison. For my part, I want my cocaine pure and my tofu dogs feces-free. This is a no-lose situation -- there are no losers. No extra expense to restaurants, and health benefits to diners. We just don't like that it comes from government. But we are mature enough to understand that it's results that matter, not symbols. Symbols matter only because of their results.

So we agree then.


Anonymous said...

Aside from the obnoxiousness of having bureaucrats tell us what to do, what real objection is there to forbidding the addition of a convenient poison to food?

There are literally millions of smokers (of which I am not one nor have ever been) who knowingly consume poisons every day, poisons that are clearly detailed on cigarette packaging along with their side effects, and who obviously feel that the benefits they receive from smoking (less appetite, relaxation, social activity, etc.) outweigh the negative consequences of them doing so. That is a personal judgment call for them to make as adults. The same could be said of those who consume alcoholic beverages which pop their brain cells like so much bubble wrap.

Like you stated, transfats do have some benefits associated with them which is why food producers use them in the first place:

- very stable
- long-lasting
- high-temperature for cooking
- less or no refrigeration needed
- inexpensive

On the other hand, transfats are obviously extremely unhealthy for people as you detailed in the original post. As a result, if a product contains transfats, then I think the presence of transfats and their negative consequences should be fully disclosed on the packaging. I consider that a moral issue of honesty on the part of the food producer.

If full disclosure of ingredients is in effect, then I do not support making the choice as to what to consume or not to consume for other individuals. There will still be some consumers who are made aware of the transfat risks but choose to consume those products anyway, preferring the benefits (ex. they're cheaper, they stay fresh longer) over the long-term costs to their health.

For better or for worse, it is the full responsibility of each individual to decide whether or not to poison himself with what he takes into their body based on his own subjective marginal analysis.

In regards to your rat feces example, I can assure you that no sane person would eat at a restaurant that clearly advertised the potential inclusion of rat feces in their food. Full disclosure is the real issue there, not the healthiness of the ingredients.

Lastly, I know from reading your blog over the past year or so that health and diet issues are extremely important to you personally, and I think that is very commendable. However, is not what others take into their souls more important than what they take into their bodies, since the souls are eternal while the bodies are purely temporal constructs, the throw-away wrapper if you will? We could have the most physically fit, health conscious society in all of human history, but without a saving knowledge of Christ, it would be all for naught. Just some food for thought. ;)

Jack H said...

Greetings A --

Smokers derive a specific benefit, of pleasure, from their vice. There is no benefit to the diner, unique to transfats. Any similar fat will do the job – such as lard, which is more healthful (oops ... less unhealthful) by far than transfats. (TFs are not cheaper and do not last longer than comparable alternatives.) They don’t add a delicate bouquet or a delightful zest or a full-bodied richness to the dining experience. There is no argument at all for their being in food. They are not food. They are toxins. There’s no dispute from any party over this fact. That being so, we could make a far stronger case for smoking sections then for transfat selections. Let’s not bother.

Instead, let’s suppose that manufacturers were deliberately adding urine to foods, for their own convenience. What, you have a problem with that? Hey, free market, dude. As long as it’s on the label, screw it. Oh. Wait. They already *do* add urine. And it’s on the label. Take a look. It’s called “urea”, and it’s in more products than you’d ever dream. Heh heh. My point? Well, frankly, yes -- I do look at labels. Do you? Yet you still eat urine. Labels, it turns out, may not be the answer. Cigarettes have the warning you suggest on the package, and have for 45 years. It’s only in the past decade that smoking has declined, and it wasn’t labels that did it, it was social pressure, in the form, among others, of legislation. Hmm.

Again, again, cigarettes have a perceived benefit. Transfats have none. Why label it, when it doesn’t belong in the first place? “Dear Parent -- this brightly colored toy is painted with highly toxic lead paint which will make your infant mentally retarded and eventually kill it. Please consider your purchasing options carefully. And have a nice day.” So here I am, sitting in a restaurant with my squeeze, trying to impress her by ordering in French. And I’m handed a liability release to sign, about the transfats. Full disclosure don’t you know. Or will it be on the menu itself. It’s not unworkable. It’s not a bad idea. It's just useless.

And I'm wondering, why is it okay to make a law forcing them to add a label, but not okay to make a law forcing them not to add the poison in the first place? Rat feces? Why would you make a distinction between labeling it, and forbidding it? It doesn’t belong. Cf. the aforementioned urea and lead paint.

My recent post called “Hobgoblin” derives its title from the Emerson quote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” We want to keep government small. But we should pick our battles. This isn’t it. Good Samaritans have to do a bit more than point and say, “There are bandits down that road.” We’re not our brother’s keeper. Then again, consider who it is who originated that quote. It’s a balance. We find wisdom where we may.

“..I know from reading your blog over the past year…” GASP! I have a READER!

But I don’t see the connection. I should love my wife, and I should love my children. Is one more important than the other? The question is irrelevant, since doing what is right is the right thing to do. I should love God and neglect material things? Why then is there a Book of Proverbs? Just because something is not the most important thing doesn’t mean it’s not important. You know this, of course, and haven’t said otherwise. And of course I agree with you. But just as there are different styles of leaning, in children, that must be honored, and just as children have their own temperaments, which must be accommodated, we relate to God in our own ways.

Some of us have peaceful hearts. Some are tormented. We do, each of us, have to make our own way, finding peace where we may. I was just thinking today that God is the God of silence. He is silent. That belief comes from my heart. I’m wrong, of course, but knowing it is no help. If God does not sing to me, where will I find comfort? I exert myself, physically. I stay healthy. It’s not ego, for all that I play the clown. It’s me trying to silence my own self, so that maybe God can find some room.

But I do go on, don’t I.