California Becomes First State to Implement Trans Fats Ban

July 27, 2008 Updated: October 1, 2015

A woman puts out pastries and cookies at an Au Bon Pain store on July 01, 2008 in New York City. New York City has become the first U.S. city to ban trans fat, now California is planning to become the first U.S. state.  (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
A woman puts out pastries and cookies at an Au Bon Pain store on July 01, 2008 in New York City. New York City has become the first U.S. city to ban trans fat, now California is planning to become the first U.S. state. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, Calif.—California is making national history by signing into law a new measure which will phase out the use of trans fats in all restaurants in the state beginning in 2010 and from all baked goods by 2011.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the new legislation on Friday as a response to a growing number of scientific studies showing a strong connection between consumption of artificial trans fats and the development of heart disease and stroke, as well as other chronic conditions such as diabetes.

"Consuming trans fat is linked to coronary heart disease, and today we are taking a strong step toward creating a healthier future," Schwarzenegger said.

Similar legislation is pending in different states and several cities including New York, Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and Seattle ban on the use of trans fats in food establishments.

The California law will punish eateries and bakeries with fines of between $25 and $1,000 for using trans fats in the preparation of fast foods and processed foods.

Trans fats are chemically-altered with hydrogen vegetable fats and are used by food manufacturers to give processed foods longer shelf life. They became popular in fast food restaurants and bakeries for yet another reason, trans fats give the food more crispy taste. Crackers, for example, can stay on the shelf and stay crispy for years in part because of the hydrogenated fats in them.

In the U.S., heart disease is the leading cause of death, and according to a study released by the New England Journal of Medicine heart disease related premature deaths take the life of more than 200,000 people each year.

According to the same study, eliminating artificial trans fats from the food supply could prevent between six and 19 percent of heart attacks and related deaths.

Series of studies during the last decade also revealed that trans fats raise the lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol in the blood. At the same time, trans fats lowers high density lipoprotein (HDL or "good") cholesterol in the blood. Elevated levels of "bad" blood cholesterol is seen by scientists as the main culprit for developing coronary disease and other ailments.

Public health advocates accepted the new California legislation with open arms in the hopes that the ban might have a nationwide ripple effect, encouraging national and regional chain restaurants and processed foods manufacturers to move away from trans fats.

Although fast food restaurants including Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's, Taco Bell and Wendy's began to replace the partially hydrogenated trans fat oils with other alternatives, others, such as Burger King, are still using them.

California Restaurant Association has fought hard against the legislation arguing that the new bill is “unduly harsh” and inappropriately places the responsibility on restaurants, and that the federal government should be held responsible for creating regulations on trans fat use, not the individual states.

Alice Lichtenstein, chair of the American Heart Association and professor at Tufts University in Boston wrote that the key message to lower cardiovascular risk is in combining heart-healthy eating habits with physical activity.

“The point is not to calculate the amount of saturated and trans-fatty acids in the diet, but to choose foods that minimize your intake," wrote Lichtenstein. "For example, you can choose leaner cuts of meat and lower-fat dairy products, smaller serving sizes, avoid foods made with hydrogenated fat and include more fruits, vegetables, vegetarian options and fish in the diet.”

Facts about Trans Fats

What Are Trans Fats?

Trans Fats, also known as hydrogenated fats are man-made fats. Trans Fats are made by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oil under pressure. The result is a stiffer fat substance, like the fat found in a can of Crisco.

Why Are Trans Fats Bad for Your Health?

Recent studies show that Trans Fats pose a high risk of heart disease, and are responsible for clogging and hardening of the arteries. Trans Fats are believed to raise the bad cholesterol levels, depleting the good cholesterol levels (HDL), which helps protect against heart disease.

What Do Trans Fats Do to Your Body?

Trans Fats can “clog the pipes” or they clog up the arteries in your body. Trans Fats do the same as what bacon grease does to kitchen sinks. Over time they clog the artery tubes that feed the heart leading to heart attack or stroke.

Where Can You Find Trans Fats?

Our bodies don’t need these man-made fats. Food producers use them in processed foods because they allow for a longer shelf life. Trans Fats could be found in fast food, crackers, pop tarts, margarine, cake, candy, cookies and microwave popcorn.

(Source: University of Maryland Medical Center)