NYC Bans Trans Fats

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, JR, MD, FACP, FACR

On December 5, 2006, the New York City Board of Health took an unprecedented step and voted to ban foods containing trans fats at all city restaurants. By July 2007, most frying oils containing artificial trans fats will be banned from restaurant use, but restaurants have another year, until July 2008, to remove all trans fat offerings.

Trans fats, also known as trans fatty acids, are generated by the chemical process of hydrogenation of vegetable oils. Hydrogenation solidifies liquid oils and increases the shelf life and the flavor stability of oils and foods that contain them. To make vegetable oils suitable for deep frying, the oils are hydrogenated, so trans fats are commonly found in deep-fried foods such as French fries and doughnuts. Other sources of trans fats are vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, and other foods. Since trans fats increase a product's shelf life, many pre-prepared foods and mixes (for example, some pancake mixes and pizza dough) contain trans fats.

Consumption of trans fats is known to increase a person's risk of developing coronary heart disease, one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., killing over 500,000 persons each year. Trans fats are worse than saturated fats in their effects on lipid (fat) levels in the blood. Trans fats increase LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels while reducing levels of the protective ("good") cholesterol HDL.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol be listed on food labels since 1993, and since Jan.1, 2006, listing of trans fat content of foods is required as well. According to the FDA, the average daily intake of trans fats in the U.S. per person is 5.8 grams, or roughly 2.6% calories consumed.

To comply with the new law, fast food and restaurant chains will have to formulate new recipes with alternative oil products. Many restaurants had already begun developing healthier oils for deep-frying prior to announcement of the ban.

New York City has also banned smoking in all bars and restaurants in the city.

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