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kongThe Beast

What has New York, Chicago and L.A. so frightened?  It’s not King Kong or Godzilla, but it's equally dangerous and just as frightening, not to mention, something very pervasive and very real.  The culprit? Trans fat*.

The New York Board of Health recently put into effect an amendment to the city’s health code that requires all restaurants to virtually eliminate trans fat* in the foods they serve.  This legislation will take effect by mid summer.  As a result, Chicago and L.A. are now considering similar legislation. This prompts the question, if trans fat* is so bad, how did it make its way into foods to begin with, and why are major cities now restricting or banning its use?

Its Evolution

Partially hydrogenated oils were created back in the early 1900’s, but it wasn't until the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s that their popularity increased as more and more restaurants and food manufacturers began to use them.  Their birth was celebrated as a breakthrough that would lead to healthier and longer lasting food products.  Trans fats result from the process of partially hydrogenating oil.  Certain fats are less stable and can go rancid quickly. Hydrogenation takes these unstable fats and gives them longer life, thus increasing the shelf life of the foods in which they’re used. When partially hydrogenated oils were originally created, it was believed they could reduce the use of saturated fats, especially in things like spreads, fried foods, cookies, crackers and other baked goods where butter or lard (both high in saturated fat*) were traditionally used.  Saturated fat* was, and still is, considered to be a primary dietary culprit of heart disease and high cholesterol*.  Because partially hydrogenated oils/trans fats were widely adopted by the food industry as a substitute for saturated fats, they were seen in a positive light and thus became a key ingredient in a multitude of foods.  In fact, people were advised to abandon butter and use margarine (made from partially hydrogenated oils) instead.

In recent years, the tables have turned on partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats.  As science progressed, it was discovered that trans fats are actually more harmful to heart health than saturated fats.  Excess saturated fat* consumption has been shown to increase the bad type of cholesterol*, LDL. But trans fat* takes it one step further. Not only does trans fat* increase LDL cholesterol*, but it also decreases the good cholesterol*, HDL.  A double-whammy.  There’s even some evidence that trans fat* may have implications relating to diabetes, infertility, obesity and possibly cancer. However, more research needs to be done to confirm these assumptions.

nyTaming The Beast

In light of these discoveries, the FDA ruled that all food products bearing a food label would have to declare the amount of trans fat* on their nutrition panels beginning January of 2006. This sent the food industry scrambling to try and remove partially hydrogenated oil and trans fat* from recipes and cooking oils.  This was no easy task.  The industry had come to rely on this type of fat*, not only for its low cost, but also because of the desirable attributes it provided: long shelf life with nice texture and flavor. quote2

In addition to being more expensive, alternatives to partially hydrogenated oil were traditionally not as stable; they had different properties that gave the resulting products a different taste and texture. To redevelop these foods was no easy feat. With time, however, the industry’s made much progress and has developed and made use of different fats and combinations of ingredients, yielding many of the foods we love as trans fat*-free.

Because restaurant foods don’t carry nutrition labels, trans fats often go unseen in this arena.  And with the on-the-go lifestyles of many Americans, we’re consuming a significant amount of trans fats from dining out.  New York estimated that each year the deaths of 500 of its citizens could be linked to trans fat* consumption.  This number is greater than the number of New Yorkers that die in automobile accidents annually.  Nationwide it’s estimated that 30,000 deaths per year are linked to trans fat* consumption.  These discoveries led to the recent amendments of the New York Health Code: FDA required trans fat* labeling and food industry reformulation of many foods.

ikFeatured Product

Most breads are now made without partially hydrogenated oils, including decadent breads like Innkeeper’s Bed & Breakfast Breads™, found at your local Costco.  These delicious breads are more like a pastry or fine dessert than bread, but despite their rich composition, they’re trans fat*-free.  February is heart health month, so do your part for your heart: seek out heart-healthy and trans fat*-free foods at grocery stores and restaurants.  Trans Fat*.  February 2, 2007 Take the Trans Fat* out of New York: Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Control: NYC DOHMH. February 2, 2007

Santora, M. The New York Times. Hold That Fat* New York Asks Its Restaurants. August 11, 2005

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bread facts

U.S.Per capita flour consumption in the U.S. is 141 pounds.