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NYC Proposes To Ban Artificial Trans Fat In All Restaurants

Armen Hareyan's picture

Artificial Trans Fat Still Widely Used in Restaurants Despite Year-Long Education Campaign; Artificial Trans Fat Is Hazardous but Replaceable; Would Be Phased Out Over 18 Months; Calorie Information, Where Feasible to Provide, Would Be More Readily Accessible to Customers

The Health Department today proposed for public comment two separate initiatives that will affect New York City restaurants. The first proposal is a partial phase-out of artificial trans fat in all New York City restaurants. The second would require restaurants that already make calorie content publicly available on or after March 1, 2007 to also post it on their menus and menu boards. The proposed changes are available for public comment on the Department's website, nyc.gov/health. There will also be a public hearing on October 30, 2006.

Partial Phase-Out of Artificial Trans Fat

Artificial trans 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"

Restaurants are a major source of artificial trans fat. On average, Americans consume almost 6 grams of trans fat each day; a single fast food meal can contain more than 10 grams of trans fat. While the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required food manufacturers to list trans fat content on all nutrition labels since January 1, 2006, restaurant customers have no practical way to know whether food they eat contains artificial trans fat.

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.

Restaurants Have Not Voluntarily Removed Artificial Trans Fat

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.

Walter Willett, M.D., Dr. P.H., Chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said, "If New Yorkers replace all sources of artificial trans fat, by even the most conservative estimates, at least 500 deaths from heart disease would be prevented each year in New York City - more than the number of people killed annually in motor vehicle crashes. Based on long-term studies, the number of preventable deaths may be many times higher. Trans fat from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is a toxic substance that does not belong in food."

Many restaurants and several restaurant chains have already reduced or eliminated artificial trans fat - or never used it in the first place. Artificial trans fat can be replaced with readily available heart-healthy oils (e.g., corn, canola, soy), without changing the taste of foods. Restaurants can switch to trans fat-free products with no significant increase in cost.

Tim Zagat, Co-founder and CEO of Zagat Survey, said, "This proposal is both good and long overdue. With all of the trans fat-free products on the market today, restaurants should have no trouble complying with these regulations."

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"For the past year, Sylvia's Restaurant made the proactive decision to invest in the health of our customers by changing to oil that has zero trans fat", said H. Kenneth Woods, President and CEO of Sylvia's Restaurant. "Sylvia's Restaurant for the past 44 years has been America's number one choice for soul food cuisine and we are extremely proud to know that our food tastes better than ever and our customers' health is not being compromised by consuming it."

Carnegie Deli owner Sanford Levine said, "We have been using 100% Canola Oil for 20 years because it has a better taste and is better for the customers. It's easy to replace artificial trans fat, it costs the same, and the food tastes great. Our cakes and other baked goods are already trans fat free. If we can do it, so can other restaurants."

Calorie Labeling

In addition, to help customers have ready access to information, the Health Department is proposing that some restaurants post calorie information on menus and menu boards, where consumers can see it before they order.

Published calorie information is often located in places such as hard-to-find brochures, the internet, or on food wrappers or tray liners, where customers cannot see it at the time of purchase.

Eating more calories than the body needs causes excess weight gain, which leads to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Obesity among U.S. adults more than doubled over the past three decades, from 14.5% to 32.2%. A large soda can have 600 calories and a single dinner may contain up to 1600 calories - three-quarters of the recommended daily calories of about 2,000 calories for an average adult.

This proposal would only affect restaurants that make calorie information for standard menu items publicly available on or after March 1, 2007 (e.g., in a brochure, on packaging or online). The Health Department estimates that this proposal would affect about one in 10 restaurants. The Health Department does not think it would be feasible to validate or publish calorie information in restaurants without standard menus, and has no plans to require this for all restaurants in the future.

"We want to put more information into the hands of consumers," the Department's Assistant Commissioner for Chronic Disease Prevention, Dr. Lynn Silver, said. "By knowing how many calories a food contains before they buy it, New Yorkers can make more informed choices. New Yorkers have this information available to them when they buy their groceries; under this proposal, it would be available to them, where feasible, when they buy food in restaurants."

"New Yorkers get at least a third of their calories from food eaten outside the home," said Marion Nestle, Ph.D., Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. "People often eat more calories than they need and are not aware of how many calories are in the foods and drinks they get served. With obesity, it is how much you eat that matters most. Providing calorie information before they buy foods should help consumers better understand the links between what they choose to eat and how much they weigh."

Quotations from Restaurant Owners & Operators

Chip Shop owner Chris Sell, said, "I can find trans fat-free and cholesterol-free oil for the same price as oil full of trans fat and cholesterol, so I am always going to choose the trans fat-free oil. We have been completely trans fat-free for the past five."

Allysa Torey, Magnolia Bakery owner said, "We make all our products without trans fat, including our famous cupcakes. We only use shortening in a small number of our seasonal products and don't anticipate any issues in making the change."

Leslie Meenan, Managing Partner at Caf