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Trans fats: The next cut in the Big Apple?

Could this be a trend? New York City has urged its eateries to drop unhealthy trans fats. Phil Lempert joins the applause.

Trans fats, beware!

In a letter to all of its 20,000-plus restaurants, New York City's health department has urged it eateries to stop serving foods that contain partially hydrogenated oil, better known as trans fat, the component that health experts say increases the likelihood of heart disease.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that there are no levels of trans fats that can be safely eaten without the possibility of a negative impact on a person’s health. Replacements for partially hydrogenated oils include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils such as olive, peanut, sunflower and cottonseed oils.

This is an effort we strongly support, and we applaud New York City’s officials for taking a stand that could save thousands of lives and millions of dollars in health costs.

But it’s not the first time such an effort has been undertaken – or been successful. Tiburon, Calif., a small upscale community in Marin County outside San Francisco (and, coincidentally, the original birthplace of started a “trans fat free” campaign two years ago and was able to get all 18 restaurants in the community coffee shops, pizza places, white table cloth restaurants, independents and chains — to comply.

The challenge in New York, of course, is to scale it up to Big Apple size. Meanwhile, the move has no legal authority, and requires voluntary compliance on the part of the city’s thousands of restaurants.

The health department also is embarking on an educational campaign to raise awareness of the trans fat issue both on the part of consumers and restaurateurs.

The campaign by the city has been endorsed by both the National Restaurant Association and the American Heart Association. The letter by the health department reportedly was precipitated by a survey that revealed that between a third and two thirds of the city’s restaurants were using partially hydrogenated oil in food preparation, especially in fried foods and baked goods.

“Quality of life” issues have been top-of-mind for the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who also has actively and successfully pushed for tough anti-smoking legislation in the city’s bars and restaurants. We offer our support both for this campaign and can only hope that other cities follow the Big Apple’s lead. If it’s successful, we have little doubt this could be a national trend.

Phil Lempert is food editor of the “Today” show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to