Kilauea coalition works to ban trans fats

KILAUEA — A group of conscientious food establishment proprietors at Kong Lung Village, led by Tom Pickett of Kilauea Bakery have taken it upon themselves to eliminate all trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) from the ingredients used to bake, cook and fry all their food. Pickett hopes the coalition can inspire other like-minded restaurants on the island to become trans-fat free and make Kaua‘i the first of the Hawaiian islands to wave the banner of using healthier fats in commercial food preparation.

There are many different types of fats, or fatty acids, that occur naturally in both the vegetable and animal kingdoms. Certain fats are a necessity for survival, brain function, healthy hair and skin, protection of the organs and many other necessary biologic functions.

Yet, as we know other fats, depending on their chemical structure can be extremely damaging to health, trans fats are not needed to sustain life, and in fact, can do considerable damage. The New England Journal of Medicine in 2006 states, “The effect and magnitude of adverse health effects of trans fatty acids are in fact far stronger on average than those of food contaminants or pesticide residues, which have in some cases received considerable attention. Complete or near-complete avoidance of industrially produced trans fats … may be necessary to avoid adverse health effects and would be prudent to minimize risks.”

So what makes a fat “mono,” “poly,” “saturated” or “trans”? The identification of a specific fatty acid relates to the number of hydrogen bonds attached to the carbon atoms of the fatty acid. If the fatty acid is completely full with hydrogen atoms, the fat is saturated.

Monounsaturated fats occur when there is only one hydrogen-carbon bond and a double bond to a neighboring carbon atom. Naturally, a polyunsaturated fat occurs when there is more than one double bond. A trans fat is a different type of fat because it very rarely occurs naturally and most often, especially in foods we eat, is a manufactured fat. While saturated types of fat molecules tend to stack and gather together, affecting their solid or melting temperature points in the freezer or oven, trans fats were engineered never to completely solidify (stack together).

This is why products such as Crisco or margarine (containing trans fats) maintain their basic consistency regardless of temperature, while also giving them an artificial shelf-life.

Trans fats — partially hydrogenated oils — were invented and patented in 1902 by a German chemist named Wilhelm Normann.

According to the Proctor & Gamble Web site, the company acquired the U.S. rights to make this type of oil which subsequently appeared in products such as Crisco, that swept the baking nation and became one of the most commonly used products both commercially and at home.

Yet while trans fats have properties that make frying and baking easier, due to their flexible nature, they also react differently to the body’s metabolic enzymes. They are far more difficult to fully metabolize and according to a University of Maryland Medical Center Web site, “The stiffer and harder fats are, the more they clog up your arteries. Artificial trans fats do the same thing in our bodies that bacon grease does to kitchen sinks. Over time, they can ‘clog the pipes’ that feed the heart and brain, which can lead to heart attack or stroke risk.”

If the trans fats found in popcorn, chips and cookies allow those foods to sit on the shelves far longer then a stick of butter could last, imagine how long the molecules can stay in the body.

With obesity and type II diabetes becoming an American epidemic, the FDA, health communities and many businesses have begun to realize this manufactured fat needs to be closely monitored and even eradicated. Beginning in 2006, the FDA has required that trans fat or hydrogenated oils must be listed on the food label.

Entire cities followed suit and “in December 2006, New York City became the first city in the nation to ban artificial trans fats at all restaurants. Restaurants in the city will be required to eliminate the artificial trans fats from all of their foods by July 2008,” states the University of Maryland Medical Center Web site.

While other fats are also culprits in the rising levels of ‘bad cholesterol’ (LDL) such as red meat and butter, “trans fats not only raise total cholesterol levels, they also deplete good cholesterol (HDL), which helps protect against heart disease,” states UMMC.

For the sake of his own health, Tom Pickett at Kilauea Bakery first eradicated trans fat from his own diet, and soon demanded his bakery do the same.

“It took a couple of years to revamp 150 recipes but we are completely trans-fat free now,” said Pickett. “Nine months ago I thought of creating this coalition in Kilauea and now five others have joined and are almost completely trans-fat free — Lighthouse Bistro, Old Mill Cafe, Kilauea Fish Market, Mango Mammas and Banana Joe.”

The transition was not easy for Pickett, especially because pie dough and Danish dough use partially hydrogenated oils due to the nature of the process and product in crust and pastry.

“Danish dough is the only product we out-source here at the bakery, but the supplier located in O‘ahu had switched from using butter to a partially hydrogenated oil a few years before. He said he could make batches specifically without trans fat if we bought one ton of dough at a time. We had to build a walk-in freezer to accommodate the product, but it’s worth it,” said Pickett.

Trained at The Culinary School in New York City, Pickett has always followed the professional chef’s mantra “superior food begins with superior products,” using butter and olive oil instead of Crisco and margarine improves taste as much as health, he said.

Frying oils are particularly responsible for containing trans fats, but there are several new products on the market that contain none, and restaurants like the Lighthouse Bistro, Old Mill Cafe and Kilauea Fish Market have successfully switched, explained Pickett. They are nearly 100 percent trans-fat free establishments, and are working to soon become so.

“I also checked into Subway, and the only thing I could find that contained trans fat are the white chocolate chips in their cookies — so we’re almost completely trans fat free up here.”

Pickett hopes more island restaurants follow in their steps, “As a bakery owner I realized that better taste is a consequence of this healthy change — it’s good for everyone. I just feel better presenting this to my customers, I hope they feel better about ordering from us when they know we’ve made this a priority,” he said.

“I think it would be amazing to proclaim all of our restaurants and resorts on Kaua‘i as trans-fat-free,” added Pickett.

He is willing to help anyone interested in transitioning with information and resources. With pressure from consumers and small businesses, giant companies like McDonalds have pledged to make the switch as well. “They have found a trans-fat free oil they deem worthy of their french fries, and plan to be using it for all its fried menu items by early 2008,” states Ban Trans Fats.com, a national organizing group dedicated to the campaign of eradicating the use of these oils in food products.

“When you find out the trans fat molecule is only two molecules away from the structure of plastic, it makes it pretty necessary to change, immediately,” said Pickett. “Removing trans fats from the industrial food supply could prevent tens-of-thousands of heart attacks and cardiac deaths each year in the U.S.,” according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Wageningen University.

Interested in how to transition? Contact Pickett at 639-4689.

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