Diet, Fitness & Exercise: NYC Bans Trans Fats
First cigarettes, now trans fats. Today, New York City's health department announced that restaurants there will phase out the use of the artificial fats, which are widely used for frying and in baked goods and are bad for the heart.
In addition to raising "bad" (or LDL) cholesterol, trans fats lower "good" (or HDL cholesterol) and increase inflammation in the body, which is thought to play a role in heart disease and other conditions. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, estimates that because of the connection between cholesterol levels and heart disease, removing trans fats from food served in restaurants could reduce deaths from heart disease by at least 6 percent. Other studies suggest that cutting trans fats may also help reduce type 2 diabetes and dementia, he says.
New York City restaurants won't have to make the changewhich health commissioner Thomas Frieden has compared to removing the lead from paintimmediately. They'll have until next July to stop cooking with trans fatty oils, and until July 2008 to cut out trans fats entirely. Alice Lichtenstein, senior scientist and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University's Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, expects them to replace the fats with healthier unsaturated fats like soybean, sunflower, and olive oils. Oils that contain saturated fats also contribute to heart disease.
Packaged foods have been required to list trans fat content on their labels since January, and many are now using the absence of the fats as a marketing technique, much as they've touted fat-free and low-carbohydrate goods in the past. Restaurant chains like KFC, Taco Bell, and Wendy's have also worked to replace trans fats in their products. Other cities are likely to follow New York's lead. "After it banned smoking in bars and restaurants, other cities fell like dominos," says Willett.
The fat switch, however, will not cause people to lose weight more easily. "Although the products may be made with a healthier fat, there's no difference in calories," warns Lichtenstein. To lose pounds, people will have to eat less and exercise more, not just swap one kind of fat for another. Moreover, says Willett, something could be completely free of trans fats and still be unhealthily heavy on pure starch and sugar, hepoints out. Instead of focusing on one ingredient, consumers should take a broader view of their diets.