If, like me, you’re
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
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
IT’S A TRANS FACT
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.