Courtesy of James Yang
With all the “0 grams of trans fat” labels you see on food, you might think that the trans fat crisis is over. Think again. Trans fat still lurks in restaurant food, where nutrition labels don’t come with your plate. Dishes from french fries and tuna melts to salad dressing and croutons still harbor trans fats.
Cindy Gershen, owner of Walnut Creek’s Sunrise Bistro, has been on a personal campaign to make restaurants healthier. She recently formed the Healthy Restaurant Association to help local kitchens make better ingredient choices. We caught up with this food activist to ask her about trans fat.
How much artificial trans fat is OK?
None. When you read a nutrition label and the item has 5 grams of trans fat, you think, “Well, that’s not bad,” but you don’t stop to think that maybe you’re eating several items with low trans fat in a day. It all adds up. Don’t settle for anything less than 0 grams trans fat. Read the ingredients and don’t eat anything that has the words “partially” or “fully hydrogenated.”
Who is in the Healthy Restaurant Association, and what are they doing to eliminate trans fat?
We’ve got more than 45 restaurants involved at this point, from white tablecloth restaurants like Va de Vi and Lark Creek, to mid-range restaurants such as Crogan’s and Rocco’s Pizzeria, to chains such as Baja Fresh. The changes they’re making are enormous. They’re switching over to rice bran oil for frying and checking their salad dressings and bouillon bases for trans fat.
Is your trans fat battle limited to restaurants?
Kaiser and John Muir are participating, and so is Sodexho, which works in the Acalanes and San Ramon Valley school districts. Moonstruck Chocolate Café is on board and the AMC in Walnut Creek wants to be.
Your association gives participating restaurants a window sticker. How will you monitor places to make sure they stay compliant?
Next year, the association will employ a “watch” system to ensure that members remain in good standing, but it is not a watchdog. I believe in what Maya Angelou said: When people know better, they do better.
Five Trans-fat Tips
Read labels. Check your favorite bread, cake mix, crackers, and cookies. Don’t overlook items that may seem innocuous, such as flour tortillas, nondairy creamers, ramen noodle mixes, and gravy and sauce powders.
Know the difference between artificially produced and naturally occurring trans fat. If a product contains a small amount of trans fat, read the ingredient list. If you see “partially” or “fully hydrogenated” oils listed, then it contains artificially produced trans fat, the dangerous kind. If not, the trans fat may come from butter or meat fat, which the latest research indicates isn’t harmful.
When you can’t read a label, ask a question. If you’re dining out, ask the restaurant what sort of oil it chooses for frying. Find out if they are using a product that is trans fat–free on the griddle for pancakes and sandwiches.
Eat more whole foods. Food that doesn’t come in a package with a label usually doesn’t contain bad trans fat.
Cook more. When you cook for yourself, you can eat more whole foods and control the fats involved. A great cookbook is The Trans Fat Solution by Kim Severson, with recipes by Cindy Burke.