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Have a Merry Christmas and a trans fat-free New Year

At this very moment there should be a large package flying across Canada filled to the brim with my Christmas treats.

Just thinking about this makes me glow with a holiday cheer. Somebody out there loves me a lot and feels the need to spoil me every year. (And I won’t bring up the fact that there were more presents for my boyfriend in last year’s parcel... because that would just be petty, wouldn’t it?)

Anyway, each year before this package makes its way from Toronto to Whistler I ask my mom not to send me a homemade Christmas fruitcake. Every year she ignores me. She orders the cake weeks before Christmas from the baker at the Farmer’s Market and then packages it up and sends it on its way. I’m sure the fruitcake accounts for about 80 per cent of the package’s weight. I keep telling her to think of all the presents that could be stuffed in the box if she left the fruitcake out.

But not even the recent threat of the airlines banning fruitcakes from carry on bags (in case there was a weapon hidden inside) would stop my mom. She would find a way to get me a fruitcake on Christmas if it killed her, and I in return would find a way to pawn it off on unsuspecting guests over the holidays.

It’s tradition. And well, that’s all there is to it.

If I could prove there were some hidden trans fats in the Christmas fruitcake, rather than a sharp blade, I might just have a case for myself.

Trans fats have become my mom’s nemesis, like Harry Potter’s Voldemort or Luke Skywalker’s Darth Vader.

She is fanning the flames of hysteria about trans fats and willing to wax eloquent about the matter to anyone who’ll listen. I’ve gotta tell ya, it’s sucks calling home these days.

The recent Globe and Mail article entitled "Trans fats almost everywhere, tests find" has taken her hysteria to a fever pitch.

Did you know that one gram of trans fat consumed daily over 10-15 years can increase your risk of heart disease by about 20 per cent, she demanded last week?

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, my dad’s absolute favourite meal at the Red Lobster has 22 grams of trans fat, according to this article in the Globe.

Well if we ever wondered why dad needed a quintuple bypass last year, we need wonder no more.

It’s because of this bypass, and the fact that his arteries were clogged up so badly, that mom has taken to finding the hidden trans fats in food as her personal mission in life.

We have heart disease in the family, mom tells me, as if I’d forgotten the trauma of dad getting his bypass surgery. I should be concerned about this more than anybody else she scolds.

And I have to admit, the more information she rams down my ears every phone call, the more I think about trans freaking’ fats. It’s starting to ruin my enjoyment of the Big Mac in a very big way.

But listen up, this is some pretty scary stuff. (See it’s true girls, we will all eventually sound like our mothers, a fact that may even be scarier than trans fats.)

Trans fats first arrived on the scene 90 years ago with the scientific discovery of partially hydrogenated oil, a process where hydrogen atoms are added to the oil to stop fat from becoming rancid and therefore extending shelf life. Sounded like a great idea at the time.

Then as we "progressed" throughout the 20 th century, became busier and more stressed out with less time to make a healthy dinner at night, our trans fat intake skyrocketed.

Fast food and convenience foods became a mainstay of the North American diet, and lurking in many of those quick and delicious snacks are trans fats.

Here’s the crunch. It’s not just heart disease that we need to be worried about. Consuming trans fats also increases your risk of diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

One leading professor at Harvard University, Walter Willett, says as many as 33,000 deaths each year in North America can be linked to trans fats.

Luckily, thanks to the work of a brilliant surgeon who we are forever indebted to, my dad isn’t on that list. And though he has a new lease on life, he now has to deal with a daily barrage of questions on every single morsel of food he puts into his body.

If he attempts to sneak in something bad at the dinner table, there’s a very loud scene. It’s just not worth it he says, feeling very, very sorry for himself.

Sometimes I feel sorry for him too. But then again, I’d kind of like his heart to keep ticking for a few more years yet.

But who knew that food could be this scary?

Sometimes I wish I were still living in a bubble of ignorance. And if I’m being truthful, sometimes I just turn a blind eye at the supermarket, forget about trans fats altogether and go about my shopping in willful ignorance. Sometimes I eat fast foods that I know have trans fats. And I savour every bite.

But the maternal lectures are starting to sink in more and more and I often find myself reading labels and putting back things that have been a staple of my shopping cart over the last decade.

Anything with the words "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated oils" or "shortening" or "vegetable shortening" have trans fats. Take a look at your labels next time. You’d be surprised.

I’ll admit I probably picked the wrong time to write a column about fatty foods just before we gorge on Christmas treats. It’s hardly fair. I’ll be gorging along with the rest of you.

All I’m saying is that perhaps it might be worth thinking about in the New Year when we’re all full of good intentions, working out at the gym, turning over a new leaf and eating healthier. Look out for those trans fats. It’s as good a resolution as any.

Oh, and if anyone would like to help me out, there’s some fruitcake at my house that needs eating.




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