A Tax On Saturated Fat

Talk about misguided. The country of Denmark recently passed a tax on all foods containing more than 2.3% saturated fat. Naturally, many healthy, whole foods made the list of taxable foods, including: avocados, butter from grass-fed cows, eggs from hens raised on pasture, and coconut oil.

Yikes! The newest tax charges the equivalent of $1.29 per pound on all foods that contain above the restricted amount of saturated fat. What a disaster for Danes. While the government says the tax is a bid to increase the life expectancy of its citizens, you and I know better. It’s not about the health of their nation, it’s about getting more tax dollars on some of their most popular and otherwise least lucrative foods.

What makes me so cynical? All the evidence.

The idea that eating too much saturated fat decreases your life expectancy is just downright wrong and long outdated. The science just isn’t there. If you doubt that, see this small sampling of posts I’ve shared with you over the years:

Add to this the fact that Denmark has taxed a host of other “sin” foods. In July of 2010, they increased a tax on chocolate, ice cream, and sweets by 25%. They already had a substantial tax on sodas.

While I agree that sodas and sweets are decidedly unhealthy, that doesn’t mean I want to see a tax on those food items here in the US. Why is that?

Because once you start taxing “unhealthy” foods in an effort to create a healthier population, you open the door to such stupid legislation as the tax on saturated fat just passed which affects all foods, even fruits like the avocado. You open the door to lobbyists from giant food and ag corporations presenting biased “science” to legislators. And you open the door to strange paradoxes like vilified nutrients.

I mean, Denmark has already taxed sugar and fat. What’s next? Protein?

Don’t laugh! Protein was once the vilified nutrient of the day here in America. In fact, that was one of the reasons why Kellogg invented his breakfast cereal. The best nutritional science back then believed that meat promoted the growth of toxic bacteria in the intestine. With books like The China Study swaying unsuspecting readers into vegetarian diets, it’s not hard to believe that at some point in the near future, the best nutritional science will once again say that animal proteins are evil. (That’s because nutrition science is still a young science, and Americans tend to jump on bandwagons rather quickly.)

One of the first things we need to do is to stop looking at food in terms of nutrients. If we’ve learned anything from the last two decades of nutrition science, it’s that Food, Not Nutrients, Is The Fundamental Unit In Nutrition. If saturated fat is so bad for you, then why is coconut oil such a healthy fat? Why does high fat dairy lower your risk of heart disease?

We need to realize that the healthiest populations in the world don’t focus on nutrients at all — but food. These cultures use taste and tradition as guides for what should and shouldn’t be eaten, rather than the latest study by nutrition scientists.

To tax nutrients, as Denmark has done (and as many in the U.S. wish to do), will only further propagate the nonsense that surrounds our dietary choices. If individual nutrients are bad or good for you, then you can artificially create the best foods in laboratories by pooling all the best, most ideal nutrients together into a whole.

But that isn’t how it works.

Instead, whenever we try to artificially create healthy foods, we demonstrate just how little we know about nutrition science. Margarine is a prime example. We thought that the saturated fat in butter was bad for us, so we created artificial fats in margarine to act as a substitute. Decades later, after everyone from school teachers to doctors to nursery workers to the government itself got on the margarine-loving bandwagon, we found out that these artificial trans fats were actually far, far worse than the naturally occurring saturated fat in butter.

Let’s not keep making the same mistakes. Let’s return to long standing cultural food traditions, rather than newfangled marvels of industrial science.

(photo by Elsa4Sound)


  1. says

    Thank you for this post! I used similar reasoning to argue against a soda tax several months ago, but I have sometimes wavered on that – a soda tax can seem pretty innocuous compared to some of the other food-related legislation passed each year.

    But this legislation proves the point. Taxation is not the key to a healthier populace.

  2. Dave, RN says

    If saturated fat is so bad for you, then why is human breast milk something like 43% sarturated fat? Are they going to tax breast milk too?

    • says

      Great point Dave. I never thought about it before, but breast milk is a great point.

      But let’s not give them the idea of taxing it, they might take us up on it.

  3. says

    Good point Dave RN! I believe saturated fats are quite healthy. I mean, our bodies are primarily made up of fats. I read that when we don;t get enough of the good saturated fats and eat too may of the omega 6 fats, our bodies may create fat, but that in turn is the wrong kind and is what causes unhealthy cholesterol levels and heart disease. Look at those practicing a Paleo lifestyle – many have been told by their doctors that they are in great health, and most of this diet is meats and fats like coconut and avocados etc.

  4. Karen says

    Like Dave, RN said. And why do we promote breastfeeding?

    This is about money, not health. Taxation of basic human needs makes me think of a remark some silly monarch once made about letting people eat cake if there was no bread. We all know where that went.

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