This week marked the roll out of New York's trans-fat ban. The city was the nation's first to step forward on this issue, along with the requirement that restaurants post calorie counts. Specifically, fast-food restaurants are to post each item's calorie count next to menu items in type that is at least as large as the price.

New York city officials are giving restaurants until Oct. 1, before they start issuing fines. The state's Restaurant Association hopes a lawsuit in federal court will halt the calorie rule. The restaurants argue that First Amendment rights will be violated, and complain that the rule would simply turn menu boards into an unreadable mess.

Following New York's trans-fat ban last year, Philadelphia, Montgomery County Maryland and Brookline, Mass., have established measures to go into effect later this year or in 2008, reports the Associated Press. Several other states and cities are considering similar moves.

Many fast-food chains and other food companies have embraced the trans-fat ban by eliminating the fat and promoting their products as "trans-fat free". You may have seen such items in the supermarket, and consumers have quickly developed a working knowledge of this "bad" fat.

The New York action starts with bans on oils, shortening and margarines used for frying and spreading. Trans-fat bans involving baked goods or prepared foods, or oils used to deep-fry dough or cake batter come in phase II, which takes effect July 1, 2008.

As for the calorie counts, city health officials say the information has to be where the customer can see it when ordering items. This is a significant and interesting step, and one that won't succeed easily. Regardless of the food or the restaurant chain, consumers will be amaze do find out the calories they actually consume. Many won't care. For example, a Burger King customer would see that a triple Whopper with cheese has 1,230 calories (1,070 without mayonnaise). The recommended daily calorie intake for an adult woman is about 1,800.

Starbucks wants to offer nutritional information on spiral-bound flip books placed on the counter where customers get milk and sugar versus on its menu board. "The menu boards become very visually complex when you add calorie counts," said a spokesman. 

On the other hand, the Subway sandwich chain has embraced the caloric idea.

"We've always been up front about our nutritional information," Les Winograd, a Subway spokesman, told the Associated Press. The chain is owned by the Milford, Conn.-based Doctor's Associates. Subway has long emphasized and advertised that it presents healthier food than other fast-food restaurants. Its new menus list calorie counts for the six-inch versions of each sandwich.

No question, New York City's trans-fat ban and its menu calorie requirement are a sign of the changing times. Similar laws will likely spread, and in the end, most consumers will ignore caloric the information. Food in grocery stores have carried calorie and other nutritional information for years, and it hasn't slowed the expansion of  Americans' waistlines.

Source: Associated Press, Newsday