NEW YORK (AP) – New York yesterday became the first city in the nation to ban artery-clogging trans fats at restaurants, leading the charge to limit consumption of an ingredient linked to heart disease and used in everything from french fries to pizza dough to pancake mix.

In a city where eating out is a major form of activity – either for fun or out of hectic necessity – many New Yorkers were all for the ban, saying that health concerns were more important than fears of Big Brother supervising their stomachs.

“I don’t care about what might be politically correct and what’s not,” said Murray Bader, nursing a cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts on Tuesday morning. “I want to live longer!”

The 72-year-old Manhattan resident called the ban a “wakeup call” for a public often unaware of the risks of artificial fats. “This stuff clogs up your vessels,” he said. “When it comes to health, we only have one life.”

Toni Lewis, catching a quick dinner at McDonalds on the eve of the vote, acknowledged that yes, it might be going too far for the city to tell people what they can and can’t put into their stomachs. But, she added: “I welcome the intrusion.”

“This is New York,” she said. “People eat out a lot. We don’t have a choice. We need someone to make it a healthier proposition.”

Trans fats are believed harmful in a number of ways, with health authorities saying they clearly contributes to heart disease. Studies have shown they raise bad cholesterol and lower the good kind. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, a common form of trans fats, is used for frying and baking and turns up in a host of processed foods: cookies, pizza dough, crackers and pre-made blends like pancake mix.

“It’s basically a slow form of poison,” says David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center.

Not everyone agrees with Katz – he’s gotten angry e-mails calling him and colleagues the “food police” and saying, “If I want to eat trans fats, that’s my inalienable right.” To which he responds: “Would you want the burden of asking your restaurant whether there’s lead in the food? Whether there’s arsenic in the bread? For all I know, maybe arsenic makes bread more crusty. But it’s poison.”

Some industry representatives were not happy. E. Charles Hunt, executive vice president of the New York State Restaurant Association, said the city had overstepped its authority by ordering restaurants to abandon an ingredient permitted by the FDA.

The Board of Health, which passed the ban unanimously, did give restaurants a minor break by relaxing the proposed deadline. Restaurants will now be barred from using most frying oils containing trans fats by July 2007 and will have another year to eliminate trans fats from all foods.

The ban, which was advocated by health-conscious Mayor Michael Bloomberg, follows a national requirement beginning this past January that companies list trans-fat content on food labels. Efforts are also being made to reduce the trans-fat content of snacks in school vending machines.

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