Trans Fat: Public Enemy #1

08/05/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

California is now the first state to ban trans fats in restaurants. On Friday, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a bill into law that will eliminate trans-fats from restaurant products beginning 2010. Trans fats will also be banned in California retail baked goods by 2011, and the all-Trans Fat track team is barred from the 2008 Olympic Games.


Fast-food joints like McDonald's and Wendy's are included in the ban, so don't expect a pimply-faced teenager to generously suggest, "May I supersize your trans fats for you?" anymore. But Twinkie, Ding Dong, and Ring Ding lovers shouldn't worry -- there's an exemption for packaged goods...or goods with silly names. I forget which.

New York City enacted a similar ban in 2006 that barred the Big Apple's nearly 25,000 restaurants from preparing any meals with the evil hydrogenated oil, and other cities have done the same. The Girl Scouts took the trans fat out of their cookies last February. And rumor has it The Food Network even canceled their "Best Trans Fat-Themed Birthday Cake" Challenge.

For those of you who don't get out much, trans fat is not an airline for obese people. It's an insidious artery-clogging fat found in partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils that makes the food last longer, taste better, and kill faster. This is why for years I have insisted on completely hydrogenating my vegetable oils* and steering clear of Florence Henderson for good measure.

Trans fats not only increase "bad cholesterol," but also decrease "good cholesterol." Good cholesterol has been shown to decrease bad cholesterol, while bad cholesterol has been known to loiter in bus stations and hold up liquor stores.

Trans fats lurk in cookies, crackers, pizza dough, fried foods, donuts... hell, let's just say if it tastes great and you feel guilty eating it, it could have trans fat written all over it (in grease pen, natch). According to the American Heart Association, trans fat contributes to heart disease, which is a leading cause of death among people who have hearts. That's a relief for politicians, the guy who stole your taxi, and Michael Vick.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, eliminating artificial trans fats from the food supply could prevent between six and 19 percent of heart attacks and related deaths each year.
Restaurants say this is an intrusion into their right to make private commercial decisions, but that right was trumped by public health considerations and an appropriate fear over where we are heading as a society. Remember: we are what we eat. For a preview, check out the versions of us in "Wall-E": bloated, fat-consuming humanoids who can't walk, physically interact, or make decisions for themselves (yet somehow manage to have babies.)

Fans of trans fat should keep their double-chins up, however. Societal persecution doesn't always last forever. Remember how eggs, pork, milk, the New York Giants, western shirts, and Mariah Carey made comebacks after being maligned? Celebrities may soon be jumping at the chance to be in the pages of People magazine sporting dashing trans fat moustaches.

* This just in -- I've recently learned that more hydrogenation makes things worse, not better, and that a steady diet of completely hydrogenated foods will mean that, among other things, I won't live to see the next Super Bowl.

I guess it's a good thing some people are looking out for me. Now pass me that yummy extra-high fructose corn syrup, will ya?