Time for another class action?

by Helen Lobato

On Friday the 19th January, ABC Radioís PM current affairs program reported that doctors are pushing for a Trans- fats ban. This is because doctors now believe that trans-fats contribute to heart disease and diabetes.

I could hardly believe what I was hearing.

I have long known that the demonising of saturated fat was one hell of a lie and that rather than give up on butter and full cream milk we needed to outlaw the phony fats such as margarine. And now the medical establishment was actually calling for a ban on these trans-fats, the true culprits of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Obviously our epidemic of heart disease and obesity has got to such a precarious level that the peddlers of the saturated fat and heart disease myth must now retract their former nonsense?

Trans-fat is made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil. This process called hydrogenation, increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats. The major sources of trans fats include deep-fried fast foods, bakery products, packaged snack foods, margarines, and crackers. These manmade trans- fats are toxic to the body, incorporating them into the cell membranes as though they were naturally occurring fats called cis fats. Body cells actually become partially hydrogenated interfering with cellular metabolism and changing the normal chemical reactions taking place in the cell.

The 1960ís and 70ís were drenched with health warnings about eating saturated fats including butter and full cream milk. The heart foundationís tick of approval was given to margarine and skim milk products. And like the sheep that we were, we changed to that bright yellow muck in the plastic tubs that not even flies will go near. Such is margarineís dearth of nutrient value, it can be left on a shelf for days, and not rot or smell any different. Margarine is almost as plastic as the tub it stands in.

The rise in the consumption of trans- fats meant that the use of butter plummeted and with it our nutrition, as we missed out on the many nutritional benefits of this valuable saturated fat source. Butter is rich in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and its saturated fat actually enhances our immune function, gives stiffness and integrity to our cell membranes, and assists in the proper utilization of omega-3 essential fatty acids.

The tragic change from saturated fats such as full cream milk and butter to trans- fats such as margarines and vegetable oils has been a decades long public health blunder. As is evident by the call for a ban on trans-fats, the health authorities are in a pickle. Heart disease, obesity and diabetes continue to soar. The declining health of a society that has been fed on chemical food is obvious for all to see.

And it is not as if the truth about trans- fats has gone unnoticed. As early as 1975 a group of scientists at the University of Glamorgan in South Wales suspected that eating partially hydrogenated fats had a connection with death from coronary heart disease.

The promotion of trans- fats by agribusiness has both fattened corporate profits and the general population. Since the 1950ís we have been inundated with advertising and media reporting that promoted this garbage. It is commendable that at last the medical profession has called for a ban on trans-fats. At the same time it is not beyond the realms of reason that we should be calling for a class action against the food industry that has made and promoted the consumption of trans- fats only to lead to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.