Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Trans Fat Fight Claims Butter as a Victim - New York Times

Trans Fat Fight Claims Butter as a Victim - New York Times

MATTHEW REICH is a baker dedicated to natural ingredients. He prefers butter in the cookies and brioche he turns out at Tom Cat Bakery in Long Island City, Queens, and like many professional cooks he applauds the public health effort to get artificial trans fat out of food.
Skip to next paragraph
Readers’ Opinions
Forum: Cooking and Recipes

But, in a twist of science, the law and what some call trans-fat hysteria, Mr. Reich and other wholesale bakers are being forced to substitute processed fats like palm oil and margarine for good old-fashioned butter because of the small amounts of natural trans fat butter contains.

Some researchers believe that the trans fat that occurs naturally in butter, meat, milk and cheese might actually be healthy. But to satisfy companies that want to call their foods completely free of trans fats, bakers like Mr. Reich are altering serving sizes, cutting back on butter and in some cases using ingredients like trans fat-free margarine.

[...]

The focus on removing trans fat has centered on the kind created by partial hydrogenation, which turns liquid oil into a solid fat like shortening that adds creaminess and shelf life to commercial baked goods and, for home cooks, makes a flaky pie crust. Trans fat is also created when certain inexpensive and sturdy oils are heated in deep-fat fryers.

But Americans eat far more artificial trans fat than natural trans fat, which is found in small amounts in butter and meat.

This artificial trans fat is the kind that New York City health officials decided to ban from restaurants, citing health studies that show that even a couple of grams of it a day can significantly increase the chance of a heart attack. Whether natural trans fats have the same health effect is still being explored by scientists, and some researchers believe the natural ones may actually be beneficial.

But to the Food and Drug Administration, which is in charge of most packaged food labeling, there is no difference between the trans fat that occurs in cows and other ruminant animals and the kind that is artificially created and favored in large-scale food manufacturing.

An F.D.A. rule that took effect in 2006 states that if a product has a half a gram or more of trans fat per serving, the amount has to go on the food label and the food can’t be called trans fat-free, even if butter is the only fat.

(The rule does not affect products overseen by the Agriculture Department including most meat and poultry goods.)

[...]

The whole matter shows that the rules have gone too far, said Greg Miller, a spokesman for the National Dairy Council.

“Things like a New York ban on trans fats create hysteria, and when you create hysteria people overreact, and when people overreact they start taking whole food groups out of their diet because there might be a little trans in it,” he said.

He and others point out that a plate of french fries can contain five or more grams of artificial trans fat and a doughnut four, while a tablespoon of butter, two cups of milk or a beef hot dog can have half a gram or less of the naturally occurring kind.

When the F.D.A. was considering the 2006 trans fat labeling law, the dairy council and others argued that natural trans fat should be uncoupled from artificial trans fat because natural trans fat might not be dangerous and because people get relatively little trans fat from meat and dairy products.

Dale E. Bauman, a Cornell University professor who specializes in animal science, says natural trans fat can be used by the body to synthesize conjugated linoleic acid, a good fatty acid that could help prevent diseases like cancer. Other trans fat researchers are a little more cautious, but still believe natural and artificial trans fat should not be viewed with the same concern.

[...]

Dale E. Bauman, a Cornell University professor who specializes in animal science, says natural trans fat can be used by the body to synthesize conjugated linoleic acid, a good fatty acid that could help prevent diseases like cancer. Other trans fat researchers are a little more cautious, but still believe natural and artificial trans fat should not be viewed with the same concern.

Dr. Walter Willet of the Harvard School of Public Health said the chemical makeup “of specific trans fatty acids in dairy fat is different than in industrial partially hydrogenated trans fat, so it is possible that the effects are different.”

In his original paper on trans fat in 1993, which is largely credited for revolutionizing thinking on partially hydrogenated oils, Dr. Willet found that the increased risk of heart disease was associated with the amount of industrial trans fats people ate. But he cautions that even if the trans fat in butter turns out to be fine, the saturated fat it contains will always be a concern.

In the end, the F.D.A. decided not to distinguish between the two fats, and requires all trans fat amounts to be labeled if there is a half a gram or more per serving. The half-gram mark is in part because it would be impossible to rid the nation’s diet of the natural trans fat in meats and dairy products.

As processed food manufacturers and fast-food restaurants struggle to find new kinds of trans fat-free oils, and some bakers struggle over what to do about butter, the natural trans fat in meat has gone largely unnoticed. (Two ounces of ground beef would be over the limit.)

But nervous meat purveyors are starting to ask about it, especially as more and more city health officials push through trans fat bans, said Lynn Morrissette, senior director of regulatory affairs for the American Meat Institute.

“I have to believe that even if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s coming,” she said.

No comments: