Yes! At last! California has passed a ban of trans fats in restaraunts. Following the lead of the city of Tiburon, California will help take a tremendously dangerous food out of the food supply. Trans fats, which are liquid vegetable fats chemically processed to render them solid at room temperature, are implicated in the develpment of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, premature aging and a host of imflammatory conditions. I advise my clients to avoid them altogether, but that is quite difficult to do when eating out.
Trans fats became widespread ostensibly as a replacement for "artery clogging" saturated fats (animal fats and tropical oils such as coconut and palm). The scientific evidence for the supposed harms done by natural saturated fats has always been weak. For an exhaustive survey of all the scientific evidence, read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. If that book is a little too daunting, his article "What If It's All Been A Big Fat Lie?" from the NY Times provides a lucid summary. My take on it is that the food industry reallized how much profit could be made from getting households to switch from using fats they produced at home: lard, bacon grease, schmaltz (chicken fat) to buying cans of Crisco. And trans fats were a great boon to the processed and packaged food industry. Natural fats go rancid at various rates. Rancid fats spoil the taste of packaged food. Trans fats are basically rendered rancid in processing but the rancidity is masked by chemicals. Foods made with them (and a host of other preservatives) can essentially stay the same forever. Try this experiment: put a stick of butter and a stick of margarine in an out of the way place for a while. See what happens. While the butter will get eaten by neighborhood animals right away, the margarine will sit there forever, unchanging and gathering dust. It's essentially plastic. That is why foods like Twinkies have basically an indefinite shelf life.
So throw away the Crisco, "vegetable oil," margarine (yes, even trans-fat free margarine) and any foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in your pantry. The safest and most nutritious oils to use are those humans have used for centuries: animal fats like butter, ghee, lard, tallow, bacon grease, and a select group of vegetable oils. Vegetable oils are tricky. Because they are predominantly unsaturated, they go rancid more easily than animal fats which are predominantly saturated. I use olive oil and sesame oil for most all my cooking, using cold-pressed walnut oil in salads and coconut and palm oil when I want those specific tastes. I rendered my own lard this summer, which was very empowering!
Recipe: Check out the Chronicle article at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/07/25/financial/f112102D61.DTL&hw=trans+fat+ban&sn=001&sc=1000
Derrick Schneider has a wonderful step by step description of rendering lard at home on his blog at: http://www.obsessionwithfood.com/2006_01_01_blog-archive.html#113709378997673043
Mary's Oil Blend
(Adapted from Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig)
If cooking with lard is going too far for you, try this wonderful oil blend--it is good for most cooking jobs and has a great blend of healthy fats.
1 cup organic coconut oil
1 cup cold pressed sesame oil
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Gently melt the coconut oil over low heat. Stir in the other oils and keep at room temperature in a tightly sealed glass jar.