Schwarzenegger Terminates Trans Fat in Calif.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has made it official: California will be the first trans-fat free state in the nation.

All-natural palm, rice and soybean oils will soon be king, and life in the Golden State will be forever altered.

The California legislature pushed the bill through last week, and Schwarzenegger signed it into law Friday, July 25.

The ban will require food providers to begin phasing out trans fat oils by July 1, 2009. Thereafter, noncompliance with the ban will result in fines of up to $1,000.

Trans unsaturated fatty acids are the partially hydrogenated oils that result from a chemical process producing solid fats with a longer shelf life.

These so-called "trans fats" were once thought to be healthier than butter, but research in the last decade has shown that they are much more harmful to health than had been believed. According to the American Heart Association, trans unsaturated fatty acids are medically proven to increase the risk of coronary heart disease by raising bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and reducing good cholesterol levels (HDL).

With more than half a million Americans dying each year from heart disease, the switch may be coming not a moment too soon.

This ban comes on the heels of the New York City's prohibition on trans fats in restaurants, which took full effect on July 1. But the wheels began turning in California before the Big Apple's eateries sought substitutes for their deep fryers.

Tiburon, a northern California town of about 8,700 people, has boasted trans fat-free restaurants since 2004. All 18 restaurants turned away, rather effortlessly and voluntarily, from partially hydrogenated oils at the urging of a lawyer, Steven Joseph, and his task force at bantransfats.com.

"The change has been very well received by our customers," said Carl Peschlow, owner of Sweden House Bakery in Tiburon. "Those so-called bad fats do, however, give our croissants a little oomph."

Peschlow said that while his bakery made the change relatively early, they still use a "tiny bit" of trans fat in their croissant recipe. Otherwise, Peschlow said, "the croissants just look like fat pancakes."

When New York City turned its attention to trans fats, they looked to Joseph's Project Tiburon for guidance. Joseph, a California transplant from Washington D.C., also led the fight against Kraft in 2003, asking the food giant to "cease and desist marketing and selling Oreo cookies to children in the State of California" until the popular chocolate sandwich cookie contained zero trans fats.

Kraft caved and has since become a leader in the industry, reducing or eliminating trans fats in 650 of its products. "Clearly that's what people wanted and that's what they care about," said Susan Davison, Kraft's director of corporate affairs.

Joseph and his team also prompted McDonalds to re-think its use of trans fats, and today Wendy's has gone completely trans fat-free. (California staple In-N-Out Burger has never used trans fats since opening in 1948.)

The California Restaurant Association along with other organizations has led the charge against the ban, claiming that many restaurants are making the shift without the government's help.

Chains including Taco Bell, Denny's, Burger King, Olive Garden, El Pollo Loco and Red Lobster have voluntarily pledged to fully or partially eliminate trans fats in their kitchens.

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