Local restaurants reduce use of trans fat

May 07, 2007|by JULIE E. GREENE

Three bills proposing a ban on trans fat in Maryland restaurants failed this year, but some local restaurants already are making changes.

In some cases, customers hadn't asked for the changes, but Tri-State-area restaurants began reducing their use of trans fat for several reasons - out of concern for their customers' health, recommendation from a supplier or the possibility laws could be enacted to ban trans fat in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia restaurants.

Trans fat occurs naturally in some animal-based foods, but most trans fat is formed when liquid oils become solid fats such as shortening or margarine, according to information on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Web site.

The FDA required trans fat to be listed on nutrition facts labels as of Jan. 1, 2006, because of the correlation between trans fat and an increase in LDL, or bad cholesterol, and coronary heart disease, according to the FDA.


Stadium Grill and Tavern co-owner and General Manager Stephen Parrotte II said with his health background - he has a bachelor's degree in exercise science - he wanted to provide healthier options on the Hagerstown restaurant's menu.

About two months ago, the tavern switched to using Wesson Smart Choice, a cottonseed/canola oil blend that contains no trans fat, for everything the restaurant fries, including french fries and wings. Options such as sandwich wraps and baked fish also were added to the menu.

Parrotte said no one has mentioned any taste difference with the fried foods.

"Our customers seem to like it," he said.

Banning trans fat

Both Parrotte and Nick Kinna, general manager of Mountain Gate Family Restaurant in Waynesboro, Pa., said one day there could be laws in their states banning trans fat in restaurants.

New York City is phasing out artificial trans fat in restaurant food by July 1, 2008, and Philadelphia's ban will be phased in by September 2008.

Maryland's bills to ban trans fat in restaurants took a good stab at the issue, but it's difficult to tackle the problem comprehensively because the presence of solid and liquid fats in foods is complex, said Anne Hubbard, director of governmental affairs for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

It's simpler to find substitutes for cooking oils with trans fat than it is to replace trans fats in cakes, icing and creams, said Alan Brench, chief of Maryland's Division of Food Control. Such foods need some kind of fat that is solid at room temperature, either trans fat or saturated fat. If restaurants replace trans fat with saturated fat, they'd basically be replacing the worst fat with the second-worst fat, he said.

That's something restaurants in New York and Philadelphia will have to figure out, Brench said.

Even trans fat-free oils heated an extended period of time, like in a constantly running deep fryer, will start to produce trans fat naturally, Brench said.

Finding trans fat

While some products state on the packaging and nutrition facts label that they have 0 grams of trans fat, that doesn't mean they contain no trans fat.

The FDA labeling guidelines permit the statement "0 g trans fat" if the product contains less than 0.5 gram of trans fat per serving.

The key to determining if food products contain trans fat is to look for the term "partially hydrogenated" in the ingredients list, said Lynn Little, family and consumer sciences extension educator with the Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

In years past, trans fat could typically be found in margarine and shortening. Newer options are available that claim to be trans-fat-free or have "0 g trans fat per serving."

Other major sources for trans fat for American adults, according to the FDA, are cakes, cookies, crackers, pies, bread, animal products, fried potatoes, potato chips, corn chips, popcorn and salad dressing.

The contracted pie maker for Mountain Gate Family Restaurant in Waynesboro began using trans fat-free Wesson soybean oil about two months ago, Kinna said.

Some of the oils Mountain Gate uses contain trans fat and some don't.

Though shocked he's never heard any customers ask about trans fat in their foods, Kinna said the restaurant will continue to reduce the use of trans fat.

"Will we ever be totally trans fat-free? I don't know. That's hard to do. We're old-fashioned country cooking," Kinna said.

The Walden Restaurant at The Woods Resort west of Hedgesville, W.Va., changed its oils about a year ago to use a trans fat-free canola oil rather than vegetable shortening for frying and a trans fat-free olive oil for sauting, Manager Terry North said.

"We still do the unhealthy deep-frying. People still want french fries, onion rings and chicken wings. They're only good if they're deep-fried," North said.

North said there was "most definitely trans fat in the dessert(s)," which are bought from a supplier.

Some chain restaurants, such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Uno Chicago Grill, also have been switching to a "0 g trans fat" cooking oil, company spokespeople said. However, "hydrogenate" showed up numerous times Friday in the online ingredient listings or nutrition information for a number of menu items at those restaurants.

For more information

For more information about New York City's trans fat ban, visit the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene online at

To learn more about trans fat, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site at

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