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Bills would ban restaurant trans fats

AUSTIN, Texas (AP)--Texans who love cheesy enchiladas and chicken-fried steak, take heart.

Lawmakers who want to ban trans fats in Texas restaurants say there's no need to worry about losing any flavor in favorite foods if healthy oils and ingredients are used instead.

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso and Rep. Carol Alvarado of Houston, both Democrats, are pressing for legislation that would phase in bans of trans fats in restaurant foods--a move they said would help fight obesity and reduce health insurance costs associated with it. It would place Texas alongside the state of California and New York City in banning the potentially hazardous fats.

"What it will do is cause restaurants and others to use healthier substances and cooking products to make healthier Texans," Shapleigh said in a Capitol news conference, April 6. "You see 200-pound fifth graders, you know we've got to do something about it."

Trans fats typically are found in certain types of cooking oils and can increase artery-clogging LDL cholesterol while decreasing the good type of cholesterol known as HDL. The American Medical Association, the nation's largest physicians' group, has said it supports state and federal attempts to ban the use of artificial trans fats in restaurants and bakeries.

The powerful Texas Restaurant Association signed on to support the legislation, and that will undoubtedly give it a boost in the Legislature.

Many of the group's 5,000 members are moving to get rid of trans fats anyway, said association general counsel Glen Garey. He said the association likes that the proposed legislation contains phase-in time for the law to take effect. Chain restaurants with 15 or more stores would have to comply by September 2010, and smaller restaurants with fewer than 15 locations would have until September 2011.

Though the costs was more of a concern at one time, healthier cooking products that don't contain trans fat are now more readily available because so many restaurants and governments are advocating the switch, Garey said.

On its website, the Texas Restaurant Association sums up the issue this way: "Due to the health concerns with trans fats, food industry suppliers have been moving to alternative oils and product formulations to eliminate trans fats. Trans fats were first promoted as a healthier alternative to the use of butter, lard and other saturated fats. Medical evidence now indicates that this was a misguided change."

As for taste, Shapleigh said he had to look no further than the operators of the famous L&J Cafe, a Mexican food restaurant in his home of El Paso, where diners dig into shredded beef tacos and green chile chicken enchiladas.

They agreed with him that banning the use of trans fats is the right thing to do, Shapleigh said.

Alvarado said she's been talking to restaurant owners, too, and said diners won't notice the difference.

"We know that taste is not going to be compromised," she said.



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