Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Criminal Isomer

One of my readers has pointed out that most of my news posts seem to be about food. Since it appears I've found my voice in that respect, here's another food-related news item: it seems our county (King County) is considering outlawing trans fats. This makes about as much sense as banning all liquids from airplanes. (Oh, wait ... ) The worst of it all is it may change how local institution Dick's Drive In makes their fries:

Let me just make one simple point here. If trans fats are so bad that they must be outlawed, why is it that Dick's Drive In has prospered selling these things for decades? Why force them to change? Is the cost that hidden? Or are we making mountains out of molehills?

I don't doubt that trans fats are bad for you, but I doubt they're so bad for you they require government intervention.

"I don't care if you eat French fries," said Seattle City Councilmember Sally Clark, a member of the health board. But when they're fried in trans fat, she said, "I end up paying for your heart disease. It's costing us money."

My question in response is, how do you really know, and how much of an extra economic burden can be traced to trans fats? There's a hidden cost to government regulation, especially if it's of something that doesn't need to be regulated. And I don't want my council members turning everything into a monetary calculation. If you want to get down to that, the atoms in each human body is worth, what, 93 bucks or something? Just because you can put a number on it doesn't mean you've correctly assessed risk.

What's next? The ATF becomes the ATFTF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Trans Fats)?

The chemistry behind this is that trans fats are artifically formed isomers of real fats: they're real fat twisted just a bit. Flipping a real fat (a cis fat) into a trans configuration actually only takes a small amount of energy, the amount required to break and re-form a carbon-carbon double bond. In fact, even in wholly natural substances, regular heat is enough to flip a few of those bonds. Therefore, a trace amount of the unsaturated fats will have isomerized and turned into trans fats. Depending on how the ban is worded, we could be outlawing ... pretty much everything with fat.

Come on, then. We all need some fats for our cell's membranes. Or as a friend of mine used to say, we need enough cholesterol to make sure our arteries don't start collapsing from lack of wall structure.

All I can say practically is, I will be watching very closely how any ban is worded, and I will vote accordingly. Scary, I know. Oh, and I can blog about it. That should at least lower my blood pressure. Thanks, blogspot. Think of how much money that just saved the community at large!!

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