The trans fat phantom menace

David Soler

America is the land of business, the land of realism. If you want to make one million dollars, you need to have some plan. If you want to find your in-laws’ house during Christmas Eve, you better search it on Google Earth.

And yet when it comes to food-related problems, no one seems to perceive the real big picture.

According to a report last weekend by USA Today, 66 percent of adult Americans are overweight or obese, and some solutions are already in the spotlight. But who’s the first culprit to point the finger at?

You’re probably thinking “Give me an easy answer, please.”

OK, you got it: the trans fats, those scary lipids that enjoy building up bad cholesterol and contributing to heart disease. The media has gone bananas about them, and the scare is so on that even major fast-food chains have already started to find ways to eliminate them from their junk meals: “Hey, our burgers will continue to be as un-photogenic and un-healthy as always, but now without those evil lipids.” No excuse to not keep buying them. Problem solved, right?

Dieticians, though, warn that the real foe is in our diets and that just merely eliminating trans fats will not substantially improve our health. I agree, but that’s not entirely the “engine” of the nationwide obesity machine. Trans fat are an easy target because they can be eliminated, but can you eliminate a burger and deploy something healthy? What’s the phantom menace then?

A complex answer is approaching, sorry: I suspect our lifestyle habits are.

Americans are hooked to action. Carpe diem! There is no time to lose here. Everybody should work around the clock and when you stop, you better find ways to relax and enjoy yourself. Sadly, enjoying eating well is not a top priority in this country – for that, maybe you should spend some time living in Italy or Spain. So “quick, quick, get me a slice of pizza, a burger or whatever that makes hunger go away fast” seems to be the cuisine motto in the United States. It might sound preposterous, but cooking the good food your body needs takes time and money.

Call me pessimistic, but obesity and food-related problems are not going to change anytime soon, no matter what short-term solutions are found. Daily vitamins, exercise and bottled water are no match for a steady-state flow of junk food into our bodies.

Take a look around this campus, for example. Who’s left out there not bored by the food served? I can tell you by heart what’s going to be in any food stand the next day: “plastic” salad, burgers, sandwiches, tortellini. Ah, and gallons of Coke! Heil diabetes!

Universities in Europe, for example, combat obesity by having an ever-changing menu that’s only served during certain hours. But that system has a problem in America: It will be economically unsuccessful. Why? Because the lifestyle here forces you to eat at a different times every day, so people just adapt to eating when “I’m hungry,” and this necessity is something only fast-food chains can deliver.

It would be desirable to find a non-invasive scientific solution that could keep people away from obesity, but that’s a burger we’ve yet to fry.

David Soler is a biomedical sciences graduate and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].