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Food and Drink

Transition from trans fats

If, like me, you’re trying to eat healthily, then we both likely have to ’fess up. Our efforts can be, well, ambivalent, to put it gently.

Catch me in a “clean food” mood and I won’t want to even share the same table with any fats, including good ones like olive oil. The same can go for sugar, with the exception, maybe, of some really good dark chocolate or a piece of Dutch licorice or three. Then, whoops, before you know it, there’s that ambivalence creeping around again.

So let’s get real. If you like to sneak in a few good french fries once in a while or a nice little slice of, say, Key lime pie, you’ll likely be as glad as I was to learn that the Chateau Whistler — in fact, all the Fairmont hotels — have joined the city of New York and other health-minded groups that are going trans fat-free.

Friday, the Fairmont will switch from trans fat-based cooking oils, limiting trans fat content to 0.2 grams per serving. All other products, such as pastries and desserts, will be limited to a trans fat content of 0.5 grams per serving by May 1.

To be clear, the Fairmont initiative is aimed at artificial trans fats, not the natural ones found in meat and dairy products. But just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s good.

All trans fats clog our arteries by raising bad cholesterol and lowering healthy cholesterol, ultimately putting us at greater risk for heart disease. Trans fat is also linked to type II diabetes, breast cancer and, according to a new Harvard study, infertility in women (see below).

But it’s artificial trans fat — the stuff that comes from hydrogenating, or adding hydrogen to vegetable oils — that’s the real monster, whether it’s fully or even partially hydrogenated.

About 95 per cent of all trans fats the average person eats comes from artificial sources in the form of margarine, fried foods (including fast foods), doughnuts pastries, packaged snacks — in fact just about any processed food you eat will likely contain trans fat. Why?

Hydrogenating vegetable oil turns it opaque and semi-solid. More importantly, it adds volume, meaning manufacturers make more money from the same amount of oil. Plus it extends products’ shelf life, meaning those commercial cookies, cereals, sauces, bad little doughnuts, whatever, can be packaged, shipped, warehoused and finally sold to you weeks and weeks after processing and they will still seem fresh — “seem” being the operative word here.

But the really scary thing about artificial trans fats is how they creep insidiously into our daily diet.

“It’s in so many things, it just sneaks by,” says the Chateau Whistler’s executive chef, Vincent Stufano. “Then one day you wake up and say, you know I was reading this label, and it has trans fat, and you say, wait a minute, how much of this stuff are we eating?”


This is what makes the Fairmont’s initiative so great. By removing one more stick from the pile of thoughtless food practices, they’re taking a stand — a big one, for on a busy day they can serve several thousand meals in Whistler alone. For until restaurant and fast food menus post nutritional content, including fats, we’re all eating blind.

But this sort of awareness is nothing new for Vincent. He’s been on a health kick for a while, personally and professionally. For the Chateau’s kitchen, he buys free range chickens and eggs and tries to use only fresh herbs and as many organic vegetables and fruits and local products as he can get his hands on.

“We look at the entire spectrum,” he says. “We are trying to move forward so that we truly have a good product all around with never any compromise.”

While shopping for groceries for home, he and his wife always read product labels, looking out for trans fat.

“If for some reason we make a mistake and buy it (something with artificial trans fat), we throw it out,” says Vincent.

Now consider the implications of a city like New York setting the healthy-eating benchmark way beyond the personal or corporate level.

In December, the city’s Board of Health voted unanimously to make New York the “fat-food nation’s” first city to ban artificial trans fats in all restaurants — from corner pizza joints to high-end bakeries. They will have to eliminate artificial trans fats from all of their foods by July 2008.

But if the Chateau Whistler is any indicator, this is not so difficult. For instance, they’re already making many of their own products from scratch, so real butter goes into pastries, not some kind of hydrogenated vegetable oil. Now, for things like deep-fat frying, the Fairmont chain is buying the same type of vegetable oil as before, except it has not been hydrogenated.

So why isn’t every restaurant, bakery and pizza joint in Whistler following suit?

Using artificial trans fats is just a nasty habit, and if New York can break it, why can’t Whistler? With a little will and vision, the entire municipality could be an artificial trans fat-free zone. Starbucks has already tossed its hat in the ring, as have A&W, McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken (but what the heck are you doing there, anyway?).

While you’re waiting for the politicians, local health board and the rest of the food industry to catch up, start a mini-revolution in your own world.

Canada is the first country in the world to require nutrition labels identifying the amount of trans fat in foods. All you have to do is read the labels. If it’s got artificial trans fats, do what Vincent and his family do — don’t bring it home.

If you make a mistake and buy something with the nasty stuff, toss it out fast. Honestly, it feels great when you do.


A Harvard School of Public Health study found that trans fats can interfere with the activity of a cell receptor involved in inflammation, glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Drugs that activate the receptor have been shown to improve fertility in women with a condition known as polycystic ovary syndrome. According to the study, which included more than 18,000 women, for every 2 per cent of calories derived from trans fat instead of monounsaturated fat, the risk of infertility more than doubled. For a woman eating 1,800 calories a day, 2 per cent of energy intake in trans fats equals 4 grams.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who has nothing in her house with artificial trans fats — wait a minute, I’d better go check.