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Trans fat danger at dining halls

Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, August 23, 2006

After a phone call to ND Food Services, I learned that the fry oil at Notre Dame dining halls is unnecessarily dangerous to your health, thanks to trans fat. The trans fat remains in our food despite the overwhelming evidence that trans fats contribute significantly to a wide variety of diseases, and the fact that replacing it with normal vegetable oil has relatively little impact on the taste and cost of the food.

Monkeys fed trans fat vegetable oil grew 30 percent bigger bellies than monkeys fed an equivalent diet of normal vegetable oil that contained the same overall number of calories and grams of fat (http://www1.wfu bmc.edu/News/NewsARticle.htm?ArticleID=1869). According to the Wake Forest University study, the trans fat monkeys also developed signs of insulin resistance and diabetes. The researchers concluded that the “apple” body shape associated with increased risk of diabetes and heart disease may be amplified by eating trans fat such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

A recent Harvard study entitled “Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular disease,” published in the April 2006 New England Journal of Medicine, estimated that between 30,000 and 100,000 premature coronary heart disease deaths occur annually in the U.S. as a result of unnecessary trans fat consumption. Other studies have shown that trans fats increase the bad LDL cholesterol while decreasing the good HDL cholesterol, and that the combined effect on the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol is double that of saturated fats.

In 2004 the journal Nature reported preliminary evidence of trans fat’s harm to the brain. Dr. Ann-Charlotte Granholm did a study comparing rats on a diet of 12 percent normal vegetable oil with rats on a diet with an equivalent amount of trans-fat. Rats on the trans-fat diet learned tasks more slowly and made more errors. Granholm said that the trans fat rats were five times worse at the learning tasks than those eating the normal vegetable oil.

While Notre Dame drags its feet, some fast food companies have responded to this overwhelming evidence. Wendy’s has replaced the trans fat oil with normal vegetable oil in their fryers. Years ago McDonald’s promised to remove half of the unhealthy trans fats from their fry oil (but has yet to do so). Many bagged potato chips, cookies and other baked goods are now trans fat free, as corporations responded to the research and public concern. Kraft removed trans fats from their Oreos in 2003. Why use trans fats, Kraft reasoned, when the food tastes pretty much the same with normal vegetable oil? The financial costs of using normal vegetable oil are not much higher, but the health costs of the trans fats are very high.

Notre Dame spends a huge amount of financial resources on the well-being of its students. I find it baffling that they do not spend a relatively small amount of money to replace the trans fats in its fryers and baked goods, given the great benefits to the future health of its students. The Notre Dame Dining Halls and Notre Dame Food Services (Reckers, ND Catering, etc.) should replace the trans fats in its fryers and baked goods. The change would extend the lives and health of many Notre Dame students (not to mention faculty, staff and visitors), enabling them to contribute more of their rare gifts to the world, and thus better fulfill the Notre Dame mission.

Sean Walsh

grad student

Aug. 20