Thursday, December 07, 2006

New Yorkers ban the trans-fat

Wow. This is a big deal. On December 5th, New York's Board of Health decided that by two deadlines in 2007 and 2008 added trans fats will be phased out of restaurant foods. The second deadline will be the most difficult and may line some wise food technologist's pockets: finding a (profitable, tasty) way to make those fries without using partially hydrogenated oil (the source of trans fat). Without it, oil becomes rancid more quickly and must be tossed (hopefully the way of someone using biodiesel). So far that's probably what will happen -- oil will have to be turned over more frequently. If someone can work out a way to extend the oil's useful lifespan without hydrogenation, well, there could be some bucks in it. Rancidity is caused by oxidation, and vitamin E is already added to oils like Canola to extend their life.

Taco Bell's been working on this issue for some time and will be switching to canola oil (from hydrogenated soybean oil) by April 2007. Wendy's and KFC have already switched, the latter to non-hydrogenated soybean oil). McDonald's has been pacing that fence, worried about the signature taste of their fries perhaps. I'll bet they figure it out now.

In terms of baked goods, odds are they'll be reformulated to contain butter, which is only a slight improvement (saturated fats, like those in butter, cause increases in LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, whereas trans fats do that and decrease the levels of HDL, or "good cholesterol"). That's if they didn't contain butter already, and they probably did. Hydrogenation in baked goods is common when soybean oil, etc. are used to extend shelf life. But restaurants generally use butter because they aren't holding onto your cake that long...

For those of you worried about not being allowed the freedom to get your trans fat, they will still be naturally occurring in meat and dairy foods, and on grocery shelves, since this only applies to restaurants. Trans fats are indicated on nutrition labels -- starting just this year.

Way to go New York. The L.A. Daily News is reporting that rumblings around L.A.'s city council suggest we'll be following suit. The National Restaurant Association is not pleased. But you should be.


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