What's it Mean to Be Trans Fat Free?


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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It’s a buzz word these days, from the Capitol to your Crisco can. Trans fat. So what is it exactly? It’s an artificial fat found in certain oils and shortenings. Doughnuts, baked goods, French fries…all usually come in contact with trans fat. And we’ve definitely heard it's not good for us.

Angell: “It increases your bad cholesterol in your blood, that’s your LDL, it also decreases your good cholesterol, that’s your HDL.”

That’s Dr. Sonia Angell with the New York City Health Department. She says eating trans fat puts people at risk for heart attacks and death.

Angell says this public health danger pushed New York City to ban the use of artificial trans fat in all restaurants last year. And the result…she says, not that big a deal.

Angell: “Well day to day living in New York City now with the restriction of the use of artificial use of trans fats in restaurants is exactly the same as it was before.” 

But, California is the first state to pass a trans fat ban. Last year the state banned it from schools. Two years from now, when the law takes effect, those onion rings at the diner won’t be cooked in trans fat.

While New York City is adjusting Californians are still digesting the idea of a world without trans fat. It’s lunch hour in downtown Sacramento and opinions are mixed from diners grabbing a quick bite.

Marty Berbach: “We don’t eat trans fat in our house and I’ve read that it’s very bad for your health, it’s bad for your heart, so for public health reasons it’s a great idea.” 
 
Diana Harter: “Probably won’t make a difference one way or the other in what I choose to eat.”

Bobby Johnson: “I think that I am intelligence enough and I eat a healthy diet most of the time but every once in awhile there’s something that I want and it’s better with it in it, than fine.” 
 
But the food won’t taste any different according to Christine Bruhn of the UC Davis Center for Consumer Research. She says that’s because the industry knows how to replace trans fat without really changing the taste of fried foods and baked goods. And Bruhn says it won’t hurt a business’s bottom line either.

Bruhn: “It makes big press but it’s not going to make a huge difference in the grocery store or the restaurant.”

She says the trans fat frenzy is mostly political. Because, Bruhn says, people today are unhealthy for many more reasons than eating pie.

Bruhn: “And to really enhance health, you don’t ban one food or another but you give people options to, in this case, increase physical activity because that has a much more powerful impact.” 
 
Bruhn says lawmakers need to push for more parks and bike trails. She says exercise is the key to better health.

Still the trend is catching on around the country. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports last year at least 23 states proposed some type of trans fat legislation.