There is state legislative action directed at banning trans fat in both Ohio and Illinois. The movement against this dreaded lipid was initiated in New York City back in 2006, allowing restaurants until 2008 to adapt to the regulations. 2006 also marked the year that nutrition labeling began including trans fat at the direction of the federal government. Ohio is struggling with it’s efforts- the recently passed (Apr 2011) “Healthy Cleveland” initiative is being opposed by the Ohio Restaurant Association, citing the protection of small businesses and freedom of fast-food establishments from local municipalities. Illinois Representative La Shawn Ford (D) has met resistance with banning trans fat as well. His proposed bill only passed in the Illinois House, yet he is resolved to reintroduce the bill later in the year hoping for success such as in California. California was the first state to successfully ban trans fat in restaurants in 2008, taking effect by January 2010, although cities such as NYC, Philadelphia, and Seattle had already made efforts in this area. You are probably wondering- what does it matter anyways? Not to worry if you politely smiled and nodded during discussions of the health repercussions of trans fat because you weren’t exactly sure what it is. Now you can be trans fat savvy just in case your boss’s wife traps you in a debate at the company holiday party.
A fat is a certain type of molecule that is mainly composed of carbons and hydrogens in a variety of ways. “Trans” refers to a particular type of hydrogen-carbon-carbon-hydrogen arrangement. The carbons are attached in the middle and hydrogens lie on either side of that bond. This format is made by adding hydrogens, also known as hydrogenation, of liquid vegetable oils that lends the carbon-carbon bonds rigidity. Think sixth grade when you thought it was cool to do walk like an Eqyptian. You know the one- one arm behind and one in front of you in a zig-zag. Imagine your elbows are carbons and your hands are hydrogens.
What is the point of hydrogenation? It can increase the length of time that vegetable fats have before going rancid, therefore increasing the shelf-life of manufactured food products. Extension of shelf life is better for storage and sales of foods, as well as allows the consumer a longer window for consumption. The downside is that including trans fat in the diet can influence higher levels of LDL cholesterol in the body, which is a more harmful form of cholesterol and is more associated with heart disease and clogging of the arteries. It is important to note the ingredients of manufactured food products on the Nutrition Facts label to assess if there are trans fats. According to the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, the guidelines for trans fat on the Nutrition Facts label allow for trace amounts of trans fat to be present in the food without reporting them until there is 1 gram per serving. On the ingredients, keep an eye out for “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” to indicated the use of trans fat in the food product.
Many restaurants are already taking efforts to eliminate trans fat from menus, whether in anticipation of legislation or for the betterment of health and consumer appeal. Opponents uphold this argument to resist state legislature, insisting that it would be more appropriate for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate trans fat rather than through state law.