October 30, 2006
Last month (September 2006),
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued
a press release which included:
fat is an unnecessary and dangerous ingredient in food. The Health
Department is proposing that restaurants remove most artificial
trans fats from their cooking over an 18-month period. 'New Yorkers
are consuming a hazardous, artificial substance without their knowledge
or consent,' Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said. 'Trans
fat causes heart disease. Like lead in paint, artificial trans fat
in food is invisible and dangerous, and it can be replaced. While
it may take some effort, restaurants can replace trans fat without
changing the taste or cost of food. No one will miss it when it's
gone.' ... This proposal allows restaurants six months to switch
to oils, margarines and shortening that have less than 0.5 grams
of trans fat per serving. After 18 months, all other food items
would need to contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
Packaged food items still in the manufacturer's original packaging
when served would be exempt."
No one is arguing that
trans fat is a healthy addition to a person's diet, and no one is
arguing that it is the only unhealthy component of the foods in
which it is found.
"There are plenty
of things in Kentucky Fried Chicken that are bad for your health
-- cholesterol, saturated fat and salt, to name a few. But only
one has the potential to get the colonel's recipe banned in New
York City. That ingredient is artificial trans fatty acids, which
are so common that the average American eats 4.7 pounds per year,
according to the Food and Drug Administration. City health officials
say these so-called trans fats are so unhealthy they belong in the
same category as food spoiled by rodent droppings. ... "
After seeing trans fat
compared to lead paint and rodent droppings, some might not understand
why it is still used.
"What is Trans Fat?
Basically, trans fat is made when manufacturers add hydrogen to
vegetable oil--a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation increases
the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats.
Trans fat can be found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines,
crackers, cookies, snack foods, and other foods made with or fried
in partially hydrogenated oils. Unlike other fats, the majority
of trans fat is formed when food manufacturers turn liquid oils
into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine. A small amount
of trans fat is found naturally, primarily in some animal-based
While restaurants may like
the benefits they get from using trans fat, The New York City Department
of Health and Mental Hygiene has been trying to get changes made
"The Health Department
conducted a year-long education campaign to help restaurants voluntarily
reduce trans fat. Information was provided to every restaurant in
New York City and training was provided to help restaurants and
food suppliers make the change. Restaurants were surveyed before
and after the campaign. While some restaurants reduced or stopped
using artificial trans fat, overall use did not decline at all.
In restaurants where it could be determined whether trans fat was
used, half used it in oils or spreads both before and after the
year-long campaign. A year after this voluntary effort, New Yorkers
are still being exposed to high levels of dangerous trans fat."
Trans fat does not just
affect those in New York, but efforts made by those in this major
city will effect diners nationally. National chains who want to
continue to do business in New York will most likely make national
"KFC Corp.'s announcement
that it will switch to a trans fat-free cooking oil by the end of
April  is likely to add fuel to the fire consumer groups have
been trying to light under McDonald's Corp. to do the same. McDonald's
first announced efforts to switch to a cooking oil with reduced
levels of trans fat in September 2002 but five months later admitted
it was having trouble introducing healthier fries that tasted as
good as the ones made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,
which produces trans fatty acids, or trans fat for short. ... Michael
Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public
Interest, applauded KFC's announcement to switch to a low linolenic
soybean oil with no trans fat in all 5,500 of its U.S. restaurants."
One fast food restaurant
is removing the trans fat (but not the salt, cholesterol, or saturated
fat) from its menu. For those around the country bans put into place
to increase the likelihood of consumers making healthy choices,
this may not be enough. For those consumers who do not want changes
made to their food choices, the response is yet to be determined.
When asked about the proposed
New York City ban on trans fat,
"New Jersey state
Sen. Ellen Karcher, D-Monmouth, Mercer, said her office was flooded
with threatening phone calls after she proposed a similar trans
fat ban in early October. A proposed ban in Chicago was ridiculed
by some as government paternalism run amok. Dr. Leslie Cho, medical
director for preventative cardiology and rehabilitation at the Cleveland
Clinic, said people might be less upset if they knew how bad trans
fats are for the body."
Whatever action a government
agency takes, it is the consumers who drive the market. As long
as there is a demand, there will be a supply.
"A new fast food is
making its debut at US fairs this fall - fried Coke. Abel Gonzales,
36, a computer analyst from Dallas, tried about 15 different varieties
before coming up with his perfect recipe - a batter mix made with
Coca-Cola syrup, a drizzle of strawberry syrup, and some strawberries.
Balls of the batter are then deep-fried, ending up like ping-pong
ball sized doughnuts which are then served in a cup, topped with
Coca-Cola syrup, whipped cream, cinnamon sugar and a cherry on the
top. ... Gonzales ran two stands at the State Fair of Texas and
sold up to 35,000 fried Cokes over 24 days for $US4.50 ($NZ7) each
- and won a prize for coming up with "most creative" new
As long as there is a demand,
there will be a supply.
Questions of the Week:
What can consumers do to improve the quality of the choices they
are given? As a consumer in the current market, what can you do
to improve the quality of food in your own diet? When eating out,
how can you know if the foods you are eating contain trans fat or
other unhealthy hidden ingredients? What role should the government
play (if any) to make it more difficult to obtain unhealthier food
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum