SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois is poised to become the second state in the country (after California) to ban artery-clogging artificial trans fats.

SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois is poised to become the second state in the country (after California) to ban artery-clogging artificial trans fats.

The Illinois House last week approved a bill to eliminate artificial trans fats from restaurant and bakery food and food sold in school vending machines by January 2013. Cafeterias operated by state and local governments and schools would not be included in the ban until January 2016.

“Trans fats are like bacon grease pouring down your sink clogging your pipes,” said Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, sponsor of House Bill 1600. “That’s exactly what trans fats do to your arteries. You can still have fried foods and baked goods without trans fats.”

Opponents of the measure, though, said people should still have fried foods and baked goods made with artificial trans fats if that is their choice.

“It’s yet another nanny-state mandate on the public when the businesses and communities are perfectly capable of making these decisions themselves,” said Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria.

“We don’t have to be a watchdog for everyone,” argued Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley. “We tell people to do a lot of things, and it would probably be good if they did them, but maybe at some point they’d like to decide on their own if they should do them or not.”

 

Adds to shelf life

Trans fats grew in popularity in the food industry because they can add to the shelf life of food and also enhance their flavor. But in recent years, more publicity has been given to the role trans fats play in the risk of heart disease, strokes and diabetes. As those negative health effects have been highlighted, more and more food manufacturers and restaurants have dropped trans fats.

“Restaurants in our area advertise they don’t use trans fats as a selling point,” Mautino said. “The private sector should be able to decide a few things for itself.”

That decision has been made by Maldaner’s Restaurant in Springfield. Owner Michael Higgins said the restaurant uses trans fat-free oils in cooking and preparing food, as well as butter instead of trans fat-laden margarine. The trend in restaurants in general is moving away from the use of trans fats, Higgins said.

“As far as trans fats go, companies like McDonald’s and people like that, they’ve already done it,” he said.

McDonald’s stopped using oils containing trans fats to cook its French fries in 2008.

Mel-O-Cream Donuts doesn’t use trans fats in its products, said supply chain manager Jeff Alexander. Mel-O-Cream uses palm shortening, which is made from the nuts of palm trees.

“A lot of the shortening alternatives we’re dealing with now, like the palm alternative, there’s a slight amount of trans fats in those,” Alexander said.

 

More time for schools

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows products to be labeled as trans fat-free if they contain less than 0.5 grams per serving. The bill approved by the House also adopts that definition. It’s a good thing, Alexander said, because an absolute zero content would create its own headaches.

“I think the only thing left that doesn’t have trans fat is animal fats, and unfortunately, because of kosher requirements, we wouldn’t be able to do that, either,” Alexander said.

Still, the trend toward regulation is disheartening, Alexander said.

“I think it’s more of a moderation issue instead of an all-out banning issue,” he said. “Like it’s not a bad thing to have a beer or two on the weekend, but nobody ever told you to go drink three cases in a week.”

The bill gives schools and prison cafeterias until 2016 to comply with the ban.

“It’s a compromise that I didn’t want, but we start somewhere,” Ford said. “We get it banned in restaurants across the state, which is good, and hopefully by 2016 we’ll get the schools and correctional centers.”

In Springfield, that won’t be a big change.

“We try to avoid as much trans fat as possible,” said Springfield School District spokesman Pete Sherman. “If we use any, it’s very little or close to none. We’re trying to do away with fried foods in general.”

The district follows U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, Sherman said. A new set of guidelines is being drafted and is expected to include a ban on trans fats.

 

Promoting ‘healthy state’

Senate HB 1600 must still be approved by the Senate. In 2008, the chamber approved a more limited ban on trans fats that applied only to schools. The bill died in the House.

The sponsor of that bill and the Senate sponsor of the current ban is Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago.

“We know the impacts (of trans fats). It causes a whole bunch of health ailments, obesity, high blood pressure and those kinds of negatives,” Trotter said.

While finding trans-fat substitutes can be more expensive, he said, “the effects on the public’s checkbook are even larger. People who are sick do not go to work. It’s a long-term effect on the economy and the well-being of our state. It behooves us to have a healthy state.”

Trotter said he hasn’t tried to count how many senators will vote for the bill, but said he’s gotten “positive feedback” since agreeing to sponsor it.

 

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527. Andy Brownfield can be reached at (217) 782-3095.

 

Potentially harmful dietary fat

* Saturated fat

This is a type of fat that comes mainly from animal sources of food. Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat may also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.

* Trans fat

This is a type of fat that occurs naturally in some foods, especially foods from animals. But most trans fats are made during food processing through partial hydrogenation of unsaturated fats. This process creates fats that are easier to cook with and less likely to spoil than are naturally occurring oils. These trans fats are called industrial, synthetic or artificial trans fats. Research studies show that synthetic trans fat can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Source: www.mayorclinic.com