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We've all heard by now that transfats are a problem. Transfats are formerly not-saturated fats that have been altered to act like saturated fats -- solid at room temperature. Very stable, long-lasting, allow high-temperatures for cooking, with less or no need for refrigeration -- inexpensive, kosher, and so very convenient for retailers and manufacturers. Hm. Doesn't it seem odd that food should be manufactured? What a strange idea.

What do they do in your 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 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%.

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 and diabetic because of the transfats. These benighted souls are not likely to be eating a sufficient number of daily servings of fruits and veggies, eh?

On the other hand, over a span of six years in two groups of monkeys with the same caloric intake, the transfat group gained an additional 7.2% of their body weight, while the mono-unsaturated fat gained only 1.8 percent. Our theory is that the transfat calories were less available metabolically, so the t.f. 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 -- 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 heart disease and obesity and so on. But a more subtle problem is this:

A cell is like a water balloon, with the rubbery 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, youthful way. They act like old plastic milk cartons that have been out in the sun for years. Brittle. Not supple and flexible and sexy. So your cells starve, slowly. The ramifications are huge. There is a way to fix it, sort of, peoples' plastic bodies. Get plenty of omega 3 in the 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 it'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?

We might hear sometimes some talk radio guy complaining about how the government is interfering where it doesn't belong. NY City has banned transfats in restaurants. Sort of a smoking-ban thing. We don't want children in restaurants exposed to second hand smoke, because of ignorant or indifferent or addicted parents. We don't raise other people's kids, but we look out for them. But we don't need to get political. As for transfats, as long as healthcare is paid for in some degree by taxpayers, government has the obligation to promote some sort of preventive measures.  Seems like a clause in the social contract.

Regardless of how manufacturers might characterize tranfats, it isn't actual food, as in nutritious. Why then should we be sold things to eat that are not food? Part of the general public health function of government is found in a discouraging of what manifestly has an inverse and parabolic relationship between economic benefit to the seller, and health benefit to the buyer. As long as lead paint on children's toys is unlawful, this precept would be hard to refute.

The savage is free, and does as he pleases. Civilized men have liberty, and act as they ought. Adults understand that however pleasing some theory may be, about human nature, the sad reality is that many people among us are foolish or destructive, and it is sometimes 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.

Health is a social issue. It is even more a private one. It's not a haphazard thing. We have far more control over how we feel and perform than may be comfortable to admit. Even if we don't have control, we have the responsibility. We can't work genetic miracles. But we can work with what we have, and optimize it. Part of that process is avoiding what is destructive. Part of it is a more positive approach, regarding what we actively commit ourselves to do. Diet is part of it -- eating sensibly. Exercise is another part of it. Motivation is interwoven through it all, like blood in tissue -- it keeps us going.

 It's not about preaching, but the information is important. More important is living it. It starts with getting started.  Any manufacturer who wants to sell you slow poison should not get your business.  That's a place to start.  Read the label.  Information that makes a difference.

 Be excellent.


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