No trans fats at PCC. Are restaurants next?

Sound Consumer | March 2007

by Betty Merten

(March 2007) — Since January 2006, when the FDA required nutritional labels to list the trans fat contents in processed foods, consumers have been able to make informed choices about trans fats at grocery stores. PCC voluntarily went a step further and discontinued all products with artificial trans fats. Today, PCC sells no foods with artificial trans fats.

Now, at the request of Mayor Greg Nickels, the King County Board of Health is working to eliminate trans fats in Seattle restaurant food. At issue is how to do it.

The trouble is that in restaurants nutritional information and specific ingredients aren’t revealed. Trans fats can “hide” in pizza dough, hamburger buns, cakes, pies and cookies, and also in apparently healthy entrées, such as fish, chicken or a veggie stir-fry.

“People are largely unaware of how much trans fats they’re ingesting,” says Dr. Robert Knapp, Director of the Northwest Lipid Research Clinic at Harborview Medical Center.

Artificial trans fats are chemically altered oils that, when ingested, raise “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and lower the good (HDL), contributing to heart attacks and strokes. “Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is a toxic substance that does not belong in food,” says Dr. Walter Willet, Harvard epidemiologist. The FDA estimates the average American eats 4.7 pounds of trans fats each year.

Last December, New York became the nation’s first major city to ban these artery-clogging fats from restaurant kitchens, despite protests from restaurant associations that such a move was “burdensome and unnecessary.” Restaurants have 18 months to transition to healthier alternatives.

Some King County Board members have suggested that a ban in Seattle may not be necessary, even though educational campaigns in New York failed to produce any significant voluntary change.

The position of the Washington Restaurant Association is clear. “We prefer education to regulation,” says association president Anthony Anton. “Because consumers are demanding it, we expect that in two to four years this won’t be an issue.”

The county is inviting the public to discuss this topic at its next board meeting: Thursday, March 15, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. in the Council Chambers at 600-4th Ave., Seattle.

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