Steve Chapman

So today, you have ample choices. If you don't want your fries cooked in partially hydrogenated oil, you are free to patronize Wendy's. If you prefer the taste conferred by trans fat, and have no desire to attain your maximum possible lifespan, McDonald's will accommodate you.

In neither case do you need the City Council of New York, or any other government body, to ride up and yank the decision out of your hands. This is not some nasty contaminant that no one would conceivably want in their food. It's an ingredient with advantages and disadvantages, which different individuals will weigh differently.

If the problem is that people are consuming the stuff "without their knowledge or consent," as Frieden claims, then the reasonable step is to make restaurants provide the needed information. Instead, he refuses to let people eat trans fat even with all the knowledge and consent in the world.

The health benefits of the switch are probably exaggerated. As former Cato Institute policy analyst Radley Balko notes, the rise in consumption of trans fat over the past 20 years has coincided with a decline in the incidence of heart disease. As for obesity, the change is irrelevant, since trans fat has the same number of calories as any other type of fat. Switching from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil to canola or olive oil won't help you shed pounds.

Replacing trans fat with saturated fat, an option New York did not think to prohibit, would be even worse. Most experts agree that saturated fat is the biggest culprit in clogging American arteries. The Department of Health and Human Services has said, "Population-based studies of American diets show that intake of saturated fat is more excessive than intake of trans fat or cholesterol. Therefore it is most important for Americans to decrease their intake of saturated fat." (my emphasis)

But here's the good news: Even in New York, eating or not eating saturated fat is still up to you. Enjoy that freedom while you can.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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