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December 06, 2006

Ding, dong, trans fats are dead!


crumpet, originally uploaded by niznoz.

Up with unctuous butter, flakey lard, and tasty peanut oil--down with nasty trans fats! [NYT]

The New York City Board of Health voted yesterday to adopt a ban on so-called "trans fats" in restaurant food.

As a food fanatic with a passion for public health, I'm delighted that the City has taken a lead on this issue.

A lot of people think that this measure is pure nanny-statism. I disagree.

Trans fats are harmful industrial preservatives. These hydrogenated fats extend shelf-life and facilitate deep frying, but they contribute little or nothing to the taste or texture of food. The world had been deep frying delicious morsels for centuries before Crisco introduced trans fats in the early 1900s. (Small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in some animal products, but most of the trans fats we eat are made from hydrogenated vegetable oils.)

Trans fats are especially dangerous because they raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol levels. Saturated fats like lard can increase bad cholesterol (LDL), but a least they don't drive down good cholesterol (HDL).

Prospective epidemiologic studies and case-control studies using adipose tissue analyses support a major role of trans fatty acids (TFA) in risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). The magnitude of the association with CHD is considerably stronger than for saturated fat, and is stronger than predicted by the effects of TFA on LDL and HDL cholesterol. The apparent gap between the epidemiologic findings and effects of TFA on LDL:HDL has been bridged, at least in part, by recent metabolic studies showing effects of TFA on inflammatory factors and other indicators of insulin resistance. (Willet WC, Atheroscler Suppl. 2006 May;7(2):5-8.)

In other words, trans fats can interfere with your body's ability to maintain healthy blood lipids and they may also increase the risk of diabetes. Unlike saturated and unsaturated fats, added trans fats are not a healthy part of a balanced diet. They are a dangerous food additive. Companies that cling to trans fats are out to make a quick buck at the consumer's expense.

Substitutes for trans fats are neither rare nor especially expensive. Several countries have already effectively banned trans fats. Denmark's pastry industry, for example, seems to be getting along just fine without hydrogenated soybean oil. Several major corporations have already voluntarily removed trans fats from their products. Kraft recently took the transfats out of Oreos and hundreds of other items.

Thanks to the new rule, I can enjoy the occasional french fry that much more. Kudos, NYC.

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Lindsay Beyerstein writes about the trans fat ban in New York City. One of her commenters wrote, But if you weed lovers who want to get weed legalized actually support this ban, you are basically accepting the fact that weed will NEVER be legal.... [Read More]

Comments

As someone who is milk allergic, I selfishly hope that they don't simply replace trans-fats with butter. In general, how are restaurants serving a vegan, kosher (meat) or similar sorts of clientele's going to cope with the ban.

I got a "don't worry, there are substitutes available" answer from the NYC Health Dept., but in practice, are there really substitutes available? In particular for restaurants dependent on a limitted number of suppliers who might not wish to retool their products for a single market, even one as big as NYC?

This is a joke! Is it not the right of a person of the US to consume what he/she sees fit? Last time I checked, transfats were no illegal. They are not controlled substances. This is pure interference with a person's liberty. Those that do not want to consume the transfats can choose not to purchase products that contain them.

This is similar to banning smoking. While I understand the health risks with smoking and trans fats, I still feel that it is the choice of the individual. This is not a place for government.

All you liberals deride governmental intrusion and "big Brother". But when it supports your agenda, you are all for this type of intrusion on freedom and liberty.

I say Tax the hell out of trans fats like the government does with cigs, booze and oil. That would make all you lefties happy. More money!! But if you ban cigs, trans fats, and booze, there goes BILLIONS is tax oney that is used to fund all sorts of social programs. Bye bye to those! But I suppose once that happens, the left will find a way to blame the right.

Yes, I'm a little worried about the lard angle. I'm Muslim enough that I avoid eating pork products and tend to favour halal grocers for meat. These past few years I've been largely able to trust most of my baked and fried goods from regular suppliers. I'm not in New York but I'd rather not have to start watching my baked good ingredients again if I ever visit.

But then New York has large minority communities that might keep things nonlard, maybe?

It would be one thing if NYC required restaurants to inform customers about trans-fats.

But I'm against a ban.

I'm a vegan, and some vegan dairy products use trans-fats.

By "vegan dairy" I mean dairy-substitutes.

Vegan = no meat, no eggs, no dairy.

My inclination is to love this choice - I wish I knew more about the market, though. I get the impression that many "consumer safety" decisions have historically been made as a result of pressure by interested parties rather than by a sincere desire to better society. If this is "really" a public safety decision, then great. I happen to agree with you that this is a dangerous food additive, not a food itself.

This case also demonstrates the importance of upholding federalism and the police powers of state and local government, which a conservative like B-Money might have picked up on had he been making a real argument instead of just noise.

B-Money -

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a Republican who supports the ban on trans-fats.

Therefore, instead of writing about how terrible "liberals" are, write about how terrible Republicans are.

I don't think we'll see a massive uptick in butter use. Butter is expensive and it's not suitable for deep frying.

Deep fryers will probably go back to plain old vegetable oils. In this city, there are more than enough observant Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and vegans to keep lard out of most fryers.

I'm not sure what Kraft did to get trans fats out of Oreos, but they did, and Oreos taste the same as ever.

Actually, I'm not so much worried about deep frying as for what will replace trans-fats in non-dairy desserts. There are plenty of replacements possible, but not all might be available. In particular for products made off-site (for which the restaurants do at least have additional time to change suppliers), suppliers might not be willing to change recipes even for a market as big as NYC.

I will be very upset if this ban means that I cannot go to NYC and get fancy vegan/pareve desserts. I already have to miss out on enough not being able to have milk products: I hope I don't have to miss out on even more.

The only thing good about this is that it was made on a local rather than state or federal level. Even if it is nanny-statism, it's good to see liberals aquiring the habits of federalism.

Once again, blame the REPUBLICAN mayor of New York, not liberals.

I agree that trans-fats are bad and that people interested in preserving their health ought to avoid them, but how is the imminent NYC ban not an example of nanny-statism, as you assert?

Nobody is force-fed trans-fats, and it is entirely possible (as you note) to substitute healthier options for trans-fats laden products. This is especially true in a city like New York with a plethora of dining choices.

Furthermore, what are the negative externalities of eating trans-fats? With smoking, one can argue that the costs associated with secondhand smoke are sufficiently grave to prohibit or limit cigarette smoking. But nobody is harmed by sitting next to someone eating a donut.

Once again, blame the REPUBLICAN mayor of New York, not liberals

Yes he's a republican, but he's also a liberal. Those are not mutually exclusive categories.

Trans fats are a dangerous food additive. Do you think that the government has a right to ban cancer-causing food dyes and other dangerous additives? If so, you should have no problem with New York City banning trans fats in cooking oil.

The ban just applies to cooking oils in restaurants. It doesn't apply to frozen desserts.

The ban just applies to cooking oils in restaurants. It doesn't apply to frozen desserts. - Lindsay Beyerstein

Perhaps I misunderstood then. My understanding is that the ban would apply to all artificially occurring trans-fats, but that the ban would first affect foods prepared by the restaurant itself and only later apply to pre-prepared foods shipped in from centralized locations.

Trans fats are a dangerous food additive. Do you think that the government has a right to ban cancer-causing food dyes and other dangerous additives?

The ban just applies to cooking oils in restaurants. It doesn't apply to frozen desserts.

It seems to me that if transfats were really so dangerous as to merit comparison to proven carcinogens, then the ban should extend to tasty frozen treats. If it's actually a "healthier-than-thou" sop, then I'd be against it. But either way, I don't have a problem with it, as I don't live in New York, and as such, don't care in the least how the city governs itself--assuming adherence to the federal and state constitution.

Eric Jaffa -- I know he is Republican, but the mayor is not the end all be all of policy. I am sure the City Council is largely Democrat. And as TW pointed out, Bloomberg is a moderate at his most extreme right, and more or less liberal 85% of the time. And that's OK. He seems to be a good mayor. I live in Chicago and approve highly of Mayor Daley, who is a Democrat.

I agree, Lindsay, that if these things are truly bad, i.e. cancer causing, obese causing, heart disease inducing, then they should go. I just do not approve of the government intervening telling me what I can and can't eat. It's a slippery slope and where does it end. Do I really need these idiot politicians, who presumably know very little to nothing about these types of issues, telling me I can't do this or that? Do you want that type of government intervention in your daily life? Caffeine is bad for you as well, but could you imagine the outcry if the gov't decided to ban coffee?

The first phase only affects oils. In the summer of 2008, the ban will extend to all foods with artificial trans fats that have more than .5 grams of TF per serving. The ban won't apply to any packaged foods served in the manufacturer's packaging.

There are non-fat, non-dairy frozen desserts on the market.

BTW ... that picture of a crumpet really has me craving a crumpet now. And do you know how hard it is to find pareve things like crumpets in Tallahassee, FL?

Oy vey ...

I guess I need to improve my baking and such skills, so I can make my own crumpets, eh?

I have to come down on the this is a bad ban side. Even putting aside issues of freedom, I don't think I agree that costs aren't an issue. I haven't made a study of this, but one datapoint: I've gotten to know the owners of the world's best deepfryers, because we spend way too much time there. They indicated to me that they had long arguments about using transfats, and that they chose not to, but that it substantially drives up the cost of their food. ($11 for a piece of fish, for instance. Not that I complain - it is damn tastey.) You might argue that they are an outlier, due to just how much oil they use, but on the other hand, if you're arguing that transfats are just companies saving a buck, aren't you conceding this? And I'm not down with driving up costs on food - that's highly regressive.

As for the freedom angle, this is more abstract. I rarely ate transfats before, so I'm not terribly impacted. But between smoking bans and how fat bans, we have an awful lot of precedent for legislating any old thing one group or another doesn't want people to consume. I'm personally for rolling back prohibition of Certain Substances, not adding new ones to the list.

The first phase only affects oils. In the summer of 2008, the ban will extend to all foods with artificial trans fats that have more than .5 grams of TF per serving. The ban won't apply to any packaged foods served in the manufacturer's packaging. - Lindsay Beyerstein

That was indeed my understanding of the law ... starting with oils, but extending to all foods. I didn't know of this exception.

And you betcha I'm familiar with Soydelicious ... and it sure is delicious! ;) But when I go into a fleishig or vegan restaurant and order a "cheesecake", are they really making that with no trans fats? I do hope they can, but if they cannot, that's gonna be a stiff price to pay.

Stupid me, though. I was in NYC over Thanksgiving weekend and talking with one of the owners of a Kosher Meat restaurant (the owners used to attend the same synagogue as my gf until they moved out to Long Island) and forgot to ask how the ban would affect their wonderful desserts.

TW Andrews -

Michael Bloomberg supported George W. Bush for president at the 2004 convention. Under Bloomberg, the police falsely arrested hundreds of protestors during the convention.

Michael Bloomberg is not a liberal.

"This is a joke! Is it not the right of a person of the US to consume what he/she sees fit?"

Sure it is. But stores and restaurants are not allowed to serve you anything they want. It's a matter of public safety. Just like they won't like stores sell milk that has gone bad, or meat that was stored at too high a temperature.

Transfats are a toxin, simple as that.

I don't think we need to worry about the slippery slope. The government isn't telling what you can and can't eat. They're just enforcing a safety and quality standard for operating a legal restaurant in New York City. The City says that you have to abide by certain health and safety regulations in order to operate an eating establishment in this city and the health advisers are convinced that trans fats are a major safety threat.

This isn't an attempt to make people eat less, or lose weight, or eat a balanced diet. The only issue is that certain food additives are dangerous. It's my choice to eat french fries, but it's also my right not to be poisoned by dangerous food additives.

(Caffeine is good for you! It decreases the risk pancreatic cancer, helps prevent alcohol-induced damage to the liver, and helps prevent type 2 diabetes. I just had to point that out.)

"Furthermore, what are the negative externalities of eating trans-fats? With smoking, one can argue that the costs associated with secondhand smoke are sufficiently grave to prohibit or limit cigarette smoking. But nobody is harmed by sitting next to someone eating a donut."

No one else is harmed when you eat e-coli. laced meat either, but we still have safety standards when it comes to meat packing. Only hardcore Libertarians would call those standards Nanny State. But people don't understand trans fats and think this is just a matter of personal choice.

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