“If you thought the real dangers to children’s health were smoking, drugs or drunk driving,” opines The Wall Street Journal this morning, “you are clearly old-fashioned. The new threat is from Oreo cookies … Apparently Americans aren’t clever enough to figure out for themselves that cookies aren’t as healthy as broccoli.”
A threat from Oreos? Yesterday, The San Francisco Chronicle first reported that a California lawyer has sued Kraft, the maker of Nabisco products, in the hopes of permanently banning the sale of those crunchy, creamy goodies to Californians under 21 years of age.
As Austin Powers’ Doctor Evil might say: “R-r-r-r-r-i-i-i-i-g-g-h-t.”
Attorney Stephen Joseph’s first claim is that Oreos’ “trans fats” — the by-products of turning cooking oils into a room-temperature solid — are nasty molecules that smart people just shouldn’t eat. Or, as one Charleston (SC) columnist put it this morning, “the stuff that makes them good is dangerous.“
Last July the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (IOM) thrust trans fats into the public debate with a critical report. True to form, the dietary scolds at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) responded with renewed demands for trans-fat food labels, which will soon arrive on your grocery shelves.
Since IOM issued its 2002 findings, more than 14,000 news stories have been written about trans fats, making Mr. Joseph’s second claim — that “very few people know about it” — less than believable.
Trans fats only make up 2 to 4 percent of our calorie intake. What’s so terrible about them anyway? Just one thing: they elevate levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called “bad cholesterol” in the human bloodstream. But this is where the science ends and the speculation begins.
Increased LDL, nutrition nannies insist, can lead to heart disease. But the scientific evidence doesn’t bear that out. In fact, the largest and most ambitious study of coronary health ever conducted (the famed Framingham Heart Study) found that the opposite is true for people over 47 years old — the age group usually considered most “at risk” for cholesterol-related illnesses. And as early as 1981, scientists were finding that LDL cholesterol appears to protect women from strokes and other non-coronary causes of death.
Which brings us back to Mr. Joseph and his attempt to ban baked goods from polite society. The most common trans-fat-laden food, of course, isn’t the Oreo. It’s margarine. And margarine use, you may recall, increased in the U.S. over the last 40 years precisely because health activists warned us away from real butter in the first place.