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Bill bans trans fats from Texas restaurants by 2010
December 8, 2008

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, has filed a bill that would ban the sale of food with trans fats, the "bad" fats in items such as shortening and margarine that have been linked to high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke.

Written by Brandi Grissom, The El Paso Times


AUSTIN -- What do the muscle-bound Republican California governor and the silver-haired Democratic El Paso state senator have in common?

One has been crowned Mr. Universe, but both are taking on obesity by trying to help Americans get bad fats out of their diet.

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, has filed a bill that would ban the sale of food with trans fats, the "bad" fats in items such as shortening and margarine that have been linked to high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke.

"Already, California, New York and McDonald's are moving to healthy diets," Shapleigh said. "Texas should move to healthier lifestyles, too."

California was the first to pass a statewide ban on trans fats, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed in July. The ban will apply to restaurants starting in 2010 and to baked goods starting in 2011.

New York City passed a similar trans fat ban in 2006 that took effect this summer, and cities in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Maryland have also ordered restaurants to cut out the fat.

Shapleigh said his measure, which will be up for debate during the legislative session that starts in January, was modeled after the California ban.

Starting in 2010, restaurants would be prohibited from packaging, storing or using trans fats to prepare or serve food.

The ban would apply to baked goods starting in 2011.

Serving up French fries cooked in trans fat-packed oils could result in fines of up to $200.

Trans fats and obesity represent the same
threat today that tobacco and cancer did 25 years ago, Shapleigh said.

"Shouldn't we take steps now to deal with it," he said.

Nearly 66 percent of Texas adults and 32 percent of high-school students were overweight or obese in 2007, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

About 37.6 percent of El Pasoans were overweight in 2006, according to a Paso Del Norte Health Foundation report, and another 27.2 percent were obese.

Dr. Robert Anders, dean of the University of Texas at El Paso School of Nursing, said trans fats are often found in the lard and oils used in traditional Mexican recipes for items such as tortillas, refried beans and chimichangas.

They are also used in candy, cookies, crackers and baked goods.

Although trans fats occur naturally in some beef and dairy products, most trans fats in American diets are artificially created when hydrogen is added to liquid oil. Hydrogenated oils in products like shortening became popular because they made food taste better and last longer.

But those tasty fats also have some nasty side effects, Anders said.

"It causes your arteries basically to become clogged and increases the risk for heart attacks and strokes," Anders said.

Near-elimination of artificial trans fat in American diets could avert up to 19 percent of the deaths each year from cardiac disease, according to a 2003 report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

El Paso restaurateur Alan Simpson, president of Silver Streak Restaurants, said he wasn't keen on the idea of government diet mandates.

"Our customers let us know through their buying habits whether they support what we're doing or not," said Simpson, a former president of the Texas Restaurant Association.

Simpson said he's already using trans fat-free oils at his restaurants, and the healthier oils have become more affordable since big chains like McDonald's and Burger King started using them.

Five years ago, the trans fat-free oils were twice the price of hydrogenated products, he said.

Leo Duran, owner of L&J Café, said he got rid of trans fat oils at his restaurant about three years ago.

"I just needed to do the right thing," he said.

Some smaller mom-and-pop restaurants might have a harder time paying for more expensive trans fat-free ingredients, though, Duran said. Still, he said the ban was a good idea.

"It is a costly thing," Duran said. "But then you've got to weigh the short-term costs and weigh the general health of our population."

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