You knew it would come sooner or later, and then yesterday, there it was: the New York Times lead editorial loudly calling for a world-wide ban on "trans fats." The headline was "Making Trans Fats History," or, in the online version, "The World Doesn't Need Trans Fats." Obviously, these things are evil -- poisonous, really -- foisted on us by the massive industrial corporations sometimes known as "big food." Excerpt:
Trans fats are responsible for about 540,000 deaths around the world every year — deaths that could be avoided if countries banned the use of industrially produced partially hydrogenated oils, which can be replaced with healthier options like vegetable oil. Beyond the United States, countries like Canada and Denmark have taken action against the use of trans fats, but lawmakers and regulators in many other places haven’t — because they are either unaware of the health risks or they are reluctant to take on the food industry.
The link about the "540,000 deaths" goes to one of those very dubious epidemiological studies, this one from the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2016. Are you sure that you've got the real cause right this time, guys? Well, nobody ever got ahead in nutritional science by showing a lack of self-confidence.
So, on to the world-wide ban. The Times article picks up on the announcement the same day by the World Health Organization that they are taking up the cause of a world-wide ban on trans fats as the linchpin of their effort to reduce death from heart disease. Here is WHO's press release, headed "WHO plan to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from global food supply." Excerpt:
Elimination of industrially-produced trans fats from the global food supply has been identified as one of the priority targets of WHO’s strategic plan, the draft 13th General Programme of Work (GPW13) which will guide the work of WHO in 2019 - 2023. GPW13 is on the agenda of the 71st World Health Assembly that will be held in Geneva on 21 – 26 May 2018. As part of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, the global community has committed to reducing premature death from noncommunicable diseases by one-third by 2030. Global elimination of industrially-produced trans fats can help achieve this goal.
But here's what's funny: I can't find any mention in the Times editorial, nor in the WHO announcement, that it was the previous campaign by government bureaucrat "experts" against saturated fats and dietary cholesterol that drove humanity to trans fats as a substitute. Saturated fats are the kind mostly found in animal products like milk, meat and butter. Here's some advice from the U.S. Government Dietary Guidelines from 1990:
A diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol can help maintain a desirable level of blood cholesterol. . . . Suggested goals for fats in American diets are as follows: . . . Saturated fats. An amount that provides less than 10 percent of calories (less than 22 grams at 2,000 calories per day) is suggested.
Not a word in here about trans fats being any kind of a problem. Granted, they also recommended a diet low in overall fats of all types. But the specific emphasis on lowering saturated fats (and also cholesterol) obviously meant that some substitute would have to be found. The food industry came up with what was then known as "margarine" (now rebranded as the evil "trans fat") to fill the gap. Can you blame them?
Meanwhile, has anything else in the earlier diet recommendations of the supposed experts stood the test of time? For example, there was the meta-analysis of the dietary habits of some 350,000 people worldwide, published in the Journal of American Clinical Nutrition and summarized in Scientific American in 2010. Conclusion (from a further summary by Steve Malanga in City Journal in 2011):
Scientific American summed up the disturbing state of the evidence in April 2010. The magazine cited a meta-analysis—that is, a combination of data from several large studies—of the dietary habits of 350,000 people worldwide, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which found no association between the consumption of saturated fats and heart disease.
By the way, the WHO continues today to recommend lowering saturated fats in the diet. Also, the low-fat diet -- which inherently means a high-carb diet -- recommended by the U.S. Government Dietary Guidelines at least from 1980 to 2010? That is now widely blamed for the American obesity epidemic.
But don't worry, the "experts" are sure to have it right this time! Or, at least, that's what they believe over at Pravda.