December 5

New York City approves trans fat ban


New York’s board of health voted unanimously today to ban trans fats from the city’s restaurants, which will be barred from using frying oils containing trans fat by July 2007. The board relaxed its draconian decree slightly by moving date for the complete removal of all trans fats from all foods to July 2008.
Says the Wall Street Journal Online:

Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said recently that officials seriously weighed complaints from the restaurant industry, which argued that it was unrealistic to give them six months to replace cooking oils and shortening and 18 months to phase out the ingredients altogether. The ban contains some exceptions; for instance, it would allow restaurants to serve foods that come in the manufacturer’s original packaging.

Trans fats are formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats by adding hydrogen in a process called hydrogenation. A common example of this is partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is used for frying and baking and also turns up in processed foods like cookies, pizza dough and crackers. Trans fats, which are favored because of their long shelf life, are also found in pre-made blends like pancake and hot chocolate mix. The FDA estimates the average American eats 4.7 pounds of trans fats each year.

Fast-food restaurants and other major chains were particularly interested in the board’s decision on Tuesday, because for these companies, a trans-fat ban wouldn’t just involve substituting one ingredient for another. In addition to overhauling recipes, they have to disrupt nationwide supply operations and try to convince customers that the new french fries and doughnuts will taste just as good as the originals.

The opening line of this article contains the oft-used phrase that I hate so much. See if you can guess what it is.

The Board of Health voted Tuesday to make New York the first city in the nation to ban artery-clogging artificial trans fats at restaurants — from the corner pizzeria to high-end bakeries.

That’s right: artery clogging. I don’t know when these nimrods from the press are ever going to figure out that the clogged-pipe analogy for coronary artery disease is not accurate. At least a writer at the New York Times got it a lot closer to being right in an article last week. The take home quote:

Most people have of a clear image of how atherosclerosis, popularly known as hardening of the arteries, causes a heart attack — fatty deposits called plaque build up in a coronary artery until the day the blood flow that sustains the heart is blocked.
If only they were right. In reality, severe coronary artery blockages almost always cause chest pain known as angina and other symptoms as they form. But among those who suffer heart attacks, half of the men and two-thirds of the women report never experiencing a warning symptom. And autopsies of such victims frequently show blood clots jammed into arteries that have been only modestly narrowed.
Standard atherosclerosis therapies include bypass surgery to route blood around blockages, angioplasty and stenting to clear blockages from inside the artery, and drugs like statins that reduce cholesterol levels to slow the formation of plaque. But they have not been enough to prevent 200,000 to 500,000 American deaths annually from what doctors refer to as coronary artery disease.
As a result, many researchers have turned their attention from atherosclerosis in general to the tendency of some patients to develop a form of plaque prone to inflammation and rupture, which can spill a stew of cells into the bloodstream that can incite rapid clotting. Such plaques have been called ”vulnerable” plaque.
But little is known about how such plaques form and even less about how long they last or what makes them rupture. ”Figuring out who is going to have plaque rupture would be the Holy Grail of cardiology,” said Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt, a leading research cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

Coronary artery disease is caused by inflammation and plaque rupture. Trans fats are thought to increase the inflammation, which has nothing to do with clogging the arteries. But other substances cause even more inflammation that trans fats. Excess glucose, for example, causes more inflammation that trans fats. Why doesn’t the New York City board of health vote to ban sugar? You tell me.

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  1. Mike–Are they going to ban HFCS, white flour, and white rice too? I don’t eat any of that crap but the idea of government telling me what I can and can’t eat is appalling.
    Any idea which fats restaurants will switch to? Bet they’re afraid to switch to saturated fats for fear of being accused of causing clogged arteries, heart attacks, etc. This is ironic, considering that most people don’t get enough sat. fats and cholesterol–I think that’s one reason depression and immune problems (e.g. asthma) are so common these days.
    Thanks for the interesting info, as always.
    Hi Paul–
    Right you are–we don’t get enough sat fats and good unoxidized cholesterol.  And I agree about the consequences of asthma, depression, immune problems, etc.
    Let’s hope the ban on trans fats sates the regulatory beast for a while.
    I don’t know what oils they will use.  Probably coconut or palm oils–both of which would be major improvements.  Unfortunately, I’m sure food manufacturers are staying up nights trying to figure out how to make a substitute for trans fat, which will, of course, trigger the law of unintended consequences just as the trans fats did.

  2. is there a connection between asthma and saturated fat intake (or lack thereof)? I’ve had mild asthma for years and I noticed it seems to have vanished since I started low carbing… and staying away from cats…
    Hi mrfreddy–
    Over the years I’ve seen a lot of my patients reduce symptoms of asthma and other inflammatory disorders once they start low-carb dieting.  I don’t know specifically what causes the reduction in symptoms other than an overall reduction in inflammation, which has been shown in the medical literature.  Keeping away from cats can’t hurt, either.

  3. I fear the unintended consequences could easily be much worse. The whole problem was caused by the forced “Politically Correct” substitution of tallow, lard and tropical oils with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in the first place. For that reason they cannot just go back. What will be used is something that again has never been verified safe, just assumed so via invalid logic. I haven’t even heard one report about exactly what the “new” solution is.
    Hi George–
    I haven’t heard what’s in the hopper yet, either, but I’m sure whatever it is, it will come with its whole set of problems.  As the old song says: When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn.

  4. What’s the replacement oil? Has it been thoroughly tested under typical restaurant conditions? The last big “health improvement” was to avoid anything containing saturated fat, and to use partially hydrogenated oil instead. People have lived with that mistake, many eating large amounts of trans fats, for over 15 years. Please, no more mistakes
    Hi RStern–
    I fear your plea will fall on deaf ears.  And I can guarantee you that the ‘new and improved’ replacement oil will trigger the law of unintended consequences.
    I don’t understand all the hand wringing over all this anyway.  Why don’t the fast food places simply go back to using saturated fats.  We (the informed) know that saturated fats aren’t the problem, but the great unwashed masses still think they are.  But, who cares?  Does anyone seriously believe that health-conscious people dine at McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s?  You could put anything in their food, and as long as it tasted like the masses expect it to taste, and as long as the portions are hefty, they will continue to line up at the counter.

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