NYC's Policy on Trans Fats Has Wider Impact

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Thank you, New York City!

    I bet you never thought you’d hear someone from Texas saying that. But I’m really thankful to hear that the Big Apple’s ban on the use of trans fats in the city’s restaurants has sharply reduced the amount of unhealthy fats consumed by fast-food customers. According to CNN, a study by city health officials found that the average trans fat content of diners’ meals dropped by 2.5 grams. Prior to the ban going into place, customers were consuming about 3 grams of trans fats. After the ban was in swing, they were eating 0.5 grams, which is considered negligible. The analysis was based on lunch receipts collected at fast-food restaurants including McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, KFC and Pizza Hut before the ban started as well as after the ban was in place. And interestingly, the study found that the proportion of meals containing 0.5 grams or less increased from 32 percent in 2007 to 59 percent by 2009.

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    So what exactly is trans fat? “Trans fat is made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation, which makes the oil less likely to spoil,” the Mayo Clinic explained. “Using trans fats in the manufacturing of foods helps foods stay fresh longer, have a longer shelf life and have a less greasy feel.” Trans fats can be found in commercially baked goods (think of crackers, cookies and cakes) as well as fried foods (think of doughnuts and French fries). This substance also can be found in shortenings and some types of margarine. Additionally, small amounts of trans fat occur naturally in some meat and dairy products; however, this natural trans fat is not as harmful as the type that is found in processed foods.

    And why are trans fats bad for you? The Mayo Clinic reports that this type of fat – which is also called trans-fatty acids – does a double-whammy to the body. First of all, trans fats raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (which is the bad type of cholesterol to have). If that’s not enough, trans fats also lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (which is the good type of cholesterol).  This change in cholesterol increases a person’s risk of heart disease. Trans fats also increases triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood that can contribute to hardening of the arteries and increases the risk of stroke, diabetes, heart disease and heart attack. Trans fat also may increase inflammation, which can play a key role in forming fatty blockages in the heart’s blood vessels.

    So how much trans fat is OK? Experts aren’t sure, but the American Heart Association recommends that trans fats make up no more than one percent of your total daily calories. That would be 20 calories in a 2,000-calorie diet.

    Obviously, trans fats are available in some grocery store items, so you need to be vigilant while shopping. To ferret them out, you need to read the labels and look for the words “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.” Additionally, “hydrogenated vegetable oil” could mean the oil contains some level of trans fat. However, products listing “fully hydrogenated vegetable oil” and “completely hydrogenated oil” do not contain trans fat.

  • The Mayo Clinic also warns that you need to be aware of another factor related to nutritional labels and trans fat. “For example, in the United States if a food has less than 0.6 grams of trans fat per serving, the food label can read 0 grams trans fat,” the clinic’s website cautions. “Though that’s a small amount of trans fat, if you eat multiple servings of foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat, you could exceed recommended limits.”

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    So now to answer what I’m sure is one of your biggest questions -- why am I thankful to New York City? One reason is that this policy decision actually had a measurable effect on public consumption. But more importantly, that policy decision may have affected my own health (as well as yours) since many chain fast food restaurants eliminated trans fat nation-wide as a result of the ban. Thanks again, New York!

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:


    American Heart Association. (2010). Trans Fats.

    MacMillan, A. (2012). NYC’s fat ban paying off. CNN.

    Mayo Clinic. (2011). Trans fat is double trouble for your heart.

Published On: July 17, 2012