California Bans Trans Fats in Restaurants

California has passed a law banning trans fats in restaurants, bakeries, delicatessens, cafeterias, and other businesses classified as “food facilities.”

The July 26 edition of the New York Times features an article titled “California Bars Restaurant Use of Trans Fats” that reports that California has followed the lead of New York, Philadelphia, and other cities and passed a law banning trans fats in restaurants, bakeries, delicatessens, cafeterias, and other businesses classified as “food facilities.” The law requires them to “discontinue use of oils, margarine, and shortening containing trans fats.”

The American Heart Association and other health groups have been quick to praise the move to ban trans fats, which lower HDLs, raise LDLs, and contribute to heart disease and other cardiovascular ailments. According to the NYT article, AHA President Dr. Clyde Yancy said that “a 2 percent increase in trans-fat intake could result over time in a 25 percent increase in the likelihood of developing coronary artery disease.” He also said that “These are data we are just now beginning to understand… It is pretty clear now that it was a mistake for us to embrace these fats.”

Cardiologist Wes Fisher, MD, offers a contrarian take on the whole matter at his blog. He links to several studies that demonstrate the superiority of low-carb, ketogenic diets over low-fat diets when it comes to promoting weight loss and lipid management, and asks (with tongue ever so slightly in cheek?) whether, “given the available data above and the efficacy of low carbohydrate diets to improve weight and lipid panels, might [California and other cities and states that have banned trans fats] be targeting the wrong thing?”

Is the inimitable Dr. Wes on to something? Would it be medically advisable to somehow ban high-carb foods? Would such a move even be feasible? The outcry from the nation’s fast food retailers (not to mention many of their customers) would be deafening. As pointed out in the NYT article, the main opposition to California’s trans fat ban has come from the California Restaurant Association (CRA), which the article said has “argued that singling out trans fats as a singularly harmful food product was arbitrary and that a mandate would prove expensive.”

In a bid for “disingenuous PR justification of the year,” a CRA representative interviewed for the article reassured readers that the CRA does not doubt the health findings surrounding trans fats, noting instead that the association opposes the ban on “philosophical” grounds, because singling out only one product “isn’t necessarily the right solution.”

Is California’s approach a harbinger of things to come? Can we legislate and mandate our way to improved national cardiovascular health? The NYT article likens the growing animus toward trans fats and other heart-unhealthy foods to the organized public health campaigns against cigarettes and tobacco. If the dangers to public health posed by trans fats can provoke such far-reaching legislation, can we expect similar prohibitions to be placed on other products (high-fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring, etc) if the evidence marshaled against them is convincing enough? Finally, what is the proper role of the state in making health choices for citizens (or, more properly, removing those choices entirely)?