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Jewish World Review July 22, 2003 / 22 Tamuz, 5763

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Fat label is a loser | Coming soon to a food label near you: the trans fat content!

Hoo boy! As I'm sure everyone is gushing at your breakfast table, "At last we are getting a fourth fat listing on the food nutrient list! Why, if that doesn't transform our triple-chin nation into a country of Calistas, what will?"

To which you should reply: "Platkin."

Charles Stuart Platkin will transform our country with his simple yet revolutionary weight loss idea, which I'll get to as soon as you read the rest of this. Because as far as the new labels go, I would first like to predict that they will have exactly the same impact as the old labels:

Those who try to decipher them will become so demented by the idea of portion size (Do I really eat only a half a cup of cereal? Does anyone?), carbohydrates (Good for you? Bad for you? Didn't it just change?) and sodium (Why don't they just call it salt?) that they will immediately down a bottle of beer. Or canola oil. Or - if they go so far as to try to figure out whether it really makes any nutritional sense to drink vitamin water - they will hit the strong stuff: Hershey's syrup, straight up.

The fact is that trans fats may actually turn out to be as bad as the government says, but I'm dubious.

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What are trans fats? They're what liquid fats like corn oil turn into when they are pumped and plumped with enough hydrogen to make them sturdy as, say, a stick of margarine. Or a plugged artery.

These fats have been linked to heart disease, heart attacks and a host of other ills. And I'd be completely convinced of their Darth Vader status if it weren't for the fact that trans fats were created as a healthy substitute for that old bugaboo: saturated fat.

"Food manufacturers wanted to put something in sat fat's place, so they came up with trans fats," says Nancy Gagliardi, editor of Weight Watchers magazine. "But basically what we've discovered is that the trans fats do exactly what the saturated fats do, only they may also lower your good cholesterol."

Yes, the last nutritional leap forward was a giant leap backward. So now the belief is that animal fats, including butter, lard and even suet - an ingredient hard to find beyond the works of Dickens - are better for you than the stuff that was supposed to be better for you the last time around.

And that's why, even if we could figure the food labels out, I'm not sure they are the answer to all our health and hugeness problems. What's considered healthy is always changing.

"So," your breakfast companions begin to murmur testily, "what is going to save us from a life of arteries stuffed like sausages, and shorts stuffed that way, too?"

Simple! Mr. Platkin's label idea.

What we need, Platkin says, is a label that tells us how many hours of exercise we'd have to do to burn off the food we are about to eat. He calls his idea "exercise equivalence."

"For instance," proposes Platkin, author of "Breaking the Pattern," "if we were to translate a Twinkie into exercise, it would add up to the equivalent of a 30-minute walk." Three Oreo Double Stuffs equal 18 minutes of laps. A piña colada equals an hour of golf, carrying your own clubs.

"Warning!" Platkin envisions a label screaming: "Eating this Cinnabon caramel pecanbon could require an additional 4 hours and 10 minutes of walking or 5 hours of continuous vacuuming."

Now wouldn't that make you drop your bun faster than learning it had 358 grams of trans fat and/or only .006% of your daily required something-or-others?

You bet it would. So bring on the Platkin labels, and let's get vacuuming!

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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