Years before Mayor Bloomberg proposed his hotly debated ban on sugary drinks sized over 16 ounces, he outlawed another treacherous health hazard in NYC: trans fats in restaurant meals. In 2007, he convinced the New York City Board of Health to ban the sale of any food with trans fats exceeding 0.5 grams per serving. Now, a city-funded analysis of thousands of fast-food meal receipts collected from NYC residents has found that before the ban, the average meal contained an average of 2.9 grams of fat. But a similar analysis done in 2009, after the ban, found that average to have dropped significantly, to only 0.5 grams — an amount the FDA considers negligible.
Trans fats, a.k.a. partially hydrogenated vegetable fats, like those found in most kinds of margarine, are a cheaper, longer-lasting alternative to saturated fats like those found in butter and other animal products, so they’ve traditionally been used instead of saturated fats by fast food chains and other low-cost restaurants. Before the ban in 2007, naysayers like the American Heart Association warned that even if trans fats were limited, the chains would simply replace them with also-unhealthy saturated fats — a reasonable enough assumption.
It turns out though that the hecklers were wrong – if the numbers revealed in the city’s surveys are accurate. The findings indicate that saturated fats rose by only 0.55 percent since the trans fat ban, meaning that overall, the ban was successful in making NYC’s fast-food meals just a teensy bit healthier. Admittedly, that’s not saying much, given the multitude of other reasons fast food is bad for us, but it’s a start. Get details on ban in the Department of Health’s brochure about it here.