As my high school history teacher father once told me, “If you find yourself in the majority, it’s time to consider switching sides.” I am not advocating increased trans fat use (with a possible exception below); however, the trans fat issue has brought an onslaught of press portraying food companies as unresponsive to both consumers and scientific evidence. I find this beyond irritating. Permit me a few “editorial” comments.

  • Companies are extremely responsive to consumers, their ultimate customers. I recently received a Specialty Food News e-newsletter with a lead-in, “Until last year, McDonald’s Corp. did not acknowledge it was testing healthier fries on unsuspecting consumers.” I was initially amused: How dare a company trick consumers into eating healthy foods? However, the item—based on a Crain’s article—discussed McDonald’s efforts to remove trans fats from fries while dealing with outraged customers preferring the traditional, trans fat-laden product. Like many food companies, the fast food firm is caught between a rock and a hard place.

  • Companies do not use trans fat ingredients simply because they make products “taste good.” Although many companies have successfully reduced or removed trans fats, it is not always easy or feasible. A company recently sent an oil-containing food to our office. Its label declared “heart healthy” and “no trans fats.” The inside product had turned rancid before half its shelflife expired (although not all in our office immediately noticed). In efforts to be trans fat-free, resulting rancid products are downright unhealthy.

  • Trans fat reduction is good; however, trans fats are not the “mother of all evil” in our food supply, as some consumer groups seem to imply. Many such firms benefit by distorting food issues. This can lead to bad food policy at worst, or at least consumers making poor choices. For example, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reversed its early support of trans fats and now condemns them. In Washingtonian’s February 1994 issue, CSPI’s director said, “CSPI is proud of finding something wrong with practically everything." Call me silly, but such a working paradigm suggests that, well, science is not being used for the public’s interest. More realistic discussions of issues, such as by the American Heart Association, are what truly benefit consumers ( presenter.jhtml?identifier=1728).

    Oh, yes, what is that “good for you” trans fat? It is CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), an antioxidant that may possess benefits such as having a positive role in controlling weight.