California Adopts Trans-Fat Ban

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California became the first state in the country on January 1st to ban restaurants and bakeries from using cooking oils that contain trans fat. The legislation was first signed into law in 2008 by Governor Schwarzenegger, but the facilities were given time to convert their cooking processes before the official ban begun.

Trans fatty acids are formed when manufacturers turn liquid oils into solid fats through a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation extends the shelf life and flavor stability of foods. Like saturated fats, trans fats can raise LDL cholesterol and contribute to a buildup of plaque in the arteries – a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. In the Nurses’s Health Study, women who consumed high amounts of trans fat had a 50% higher risk of heart attack compared with women who consumed less.

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In January 2006, nutrition labels on packaged foods were modified to identify products that contain trans fats. For products not mandated to provide nutritional information, trans fats can be identified by looking for “partially hydrogenated oils” or “vegetable shortening” in the ingredient list.

Several cities, including Philadelphia and New York City, have already enacted the ban, with several others asking restaurants to voluntarily comply. Several fast food restaurants across the country have also changed frying oils to those that do not contain trans fat. California is the first to legislate the action state-wide.

Under the California law, oils, margarines, and shortenings used in frying must contain less than half a gram of trans fat. The exceptions to the rule are deep fried yeast breads, such as donuts, and baked goods like cake batter. These products have until January 2011 to switch to unsaturated fats. Restaurants that do not follow the legislation could be fined up to $1,000. However, most restaurants have already made the switch to unsaturated oils, such as olive, canola, and soybean.

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