Saturday, 19 September 2015

Trans fats - a pointless prohibition

It was reported in the week that a ban on trans fats would save 7,000 lives over five years.

Professor Simon Capewell [yes, it's him again], said: “There should be no place in our society for trans fats and a total ban would clearly improve the health of the nation.”

I won't go into the question of how dangerous trans fats are, suffice to say that the epidemiological evidence against them is similar to the evidence against saturated fats which many people now consider to be weak. It should also not be forgotten that the increased use of trans fats in the late twentieth century was largely due to the 'public health' lobby agitating against sat fats. Since then, the food industry has responded to public concerns about trans fats by greatly reducing their use.

For most food products, trans fats can be replaced fairly easily (although it can be costly), but you have to replace them with something and that often means more sugar or more saturated fat. Moreover, there are a few products which really do need trans fats for flavour or storage.

The bottom line is that trans fats are hardly used in Britain these days except in a few products that need them and a few others which contain them naturally. Their presence in the British food supply has fallen from a fairly trivial level to a very trivial level. Average consumption is well within the recommended limit. 

That is not enough for 'public health' zealots who hate it when voluntary agreements with industry successfully address a problem and are more comfortable with 'no safe level' dogma than evidence-based policy. As ever, their attitude is 'if it moves, ban it' and banning trans fats has been one of the top 12 targets of the public health racket since the start of the decade. This week's claim that 7,000 lives would be saved if the UK introduced a full ban came from a study co-authored by Simon 'Caps Lock' Capewell in the British Medical Journal.

As is becoming the norm whenever Capewell opens his mouth, scientists who actually understand the issue, including nutritionists at Public Health England, have raised criticisms. You can read a few of them in this article. For a fuller explanation, I recommend this post by Tom Sanders, professor of nutrition at King's College.

The changes made by industry mean that artificial trans fats are virtually absent from food consumed in the UK, something corroborated by studies measuring levels of TFAs in blood or adipose (fat) tissue. To my knowledge, no partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are currently manufactured in the UK. The main sources of TFAs left are the natural ones.

As such, banning trans fats as suggested by the new report would seemingly involve banning not just the industrial trans fats that are no longer present but also milk, butter, cheese and ruminant meats.

In other words, it would be another pointless and costly ban to make industry-hating public health chancers feel good about themselves.

No comments: