The New York City Board of Health voted unanimously this week to require that restaurants in the Big Apple stop using artery-clogging trans fats in their cooking, a move that could be duplicated in cities around the country.
What Is Trans Fat?
Trans fats deliver an unhealthy, one-two punch—raising LDL or "bad" cholesterol, which pushes up the risk of heart disease and lowering HDL or "good" cholesterol, which helps protect against heart disease.
Trans fats are created through a process called hydrogenation—where vegetable oils are turned into a more solid shortening by adding hydrogen molecules. They are found in fried foods, baked goods, processed snack foods like cookies, candies, and crackers, and some margarines.
The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are put together by a panel of the nation’s top scientists, medical professionals, nutritionists and other experts, recommend that Americans limit their consumption of trans fats. In 2006, the government added trans fats to the Nutrition Facts Panel to make it easier for consumers to eat a heart-healthy diet.
In response, many food manufacturers have removed trans fats from their products. Restaurants use trans fats because they are tasty and stand up well to heat in deep-frying.
The measure gives NYC restaurants until July 2007 to switch to oils, margarines and shortening that have less than half a gram of trans fat per serving (some baked and deep fried foods have a later deadline to give restaurants time to find an acceptable substitute taste-wise).
The board of health also voted unanimously to require that certain restaurants make calorie information publicly available beginning March 2007 on menus and menu boards, where consumers can see it when they order. It estimated that this proposal would affect about one in 10 restaurants in the city.
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To avoid trans fat:
- If the ingredient list on a food includes hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, you should limit your consumption of the product.
- Avoid deep-fried foods, particularly at fast food restaurants.
- If you're using margarine, be sure to pick one that claims to have no trans or hydrogenated fats.
Foods that may be laden with trans fat:
- potato chips
- non-dairy creamers
- deep fried burgers
- deep fried fish
- fried chicken
- salad dressings
- processed peanut butter
- some cereals