Thursday, December 28, 2006

Theme Parks Now Offering You Trans-Fat Free Food

Following in the footsteps of the public initiative in New York restaurants, Universal Studios has announced it is introducing healthier side dishes and aims to eliminate artificial trans-fats from its menus. This began on Christmas Eve with certain adult and children's meals in many of the theme parks. Fries not cooked in artificial trans-fats will be on offer in some of the parks in Orlando and Hollywood, as will side salads and fruit and a range of healthier beverages. The aim is for all theme parks to be 100 per cent free of artificial trans-fats by the end of 2007.

In making this announcement Universal Studio's executive chef of Parks and Resorts, Steven Jayson, said that they while they want their guests to feel good about their food, they also want them to retain the element of choice, "that is why our program is about choices rather than absolutes". Universal Studios have been researching healthy alternatives and eliciting customer feedback and Jayson adds that "We did not want to sacrifice taste or quality. It’s important for our guests to know that healthy food can taste good."

Artificial trans-fats are made from vegetable oils that are hydrogenated to make them easier to use in processed foods such as pastry and confectionery, and to keep it semi-solid like butter for frying and spreading and to extend its shelf-life because it takes longer to go rancid. While this makes it more convenient for food producers, research has shown that a diet high in trans-fats contributes to obesity and heart disease.

Natural trans-fats do exist but they form a very small proportion of the natural fat we eat, so the term "artificial trans-fat" has become shortened to "trans-fat".

Trans-fats are not saturated fats (their chemical structure includes double carbon-carbon bonds, whereas saturated fats have only single carbon-carbon bonds), they are in fact partly saturated, retaining the same ratio of hydrogen to carbon atoms as naturally occuring poly-unsaturated fats. It is thought the problem lies in the structure of the trans-fat molecule.

The term "trans" comes from the shape of the fat molecule that is produced when the vegetable oil is hydrogenated. Hydrogenation simply means the double and triple bonds between some of the carbon atoms in the poly- or mono-unsaturated vegetable oils are broken to cause hydrogen atoms to become attached to them instead.

The problem with trans-fats seems to lie in the fact that when hydrogen atoms are added to the carbon-carbon bonds, they form a transverse pattern, lying on alternating opposite sides of the carbon-carbon link. This is different to the "cis" configuration, more common in naturally occuring fatty acids, where the hydrogen atoms lie next to each other on the same side of the carbon-carbon link.

It is possible that it is this "trans" spatial configuration that interferes with the fat's properties, for example when it interacts with cholesterol. Although chemically different to saturated fats, trans-fats act like them by raising the level of bad cholesterol (LDL). However, unlike saturated fat they have another undesirable effect - trans-fats also lower the level of good cholesterol (HDL).

So in a way, trans-fats are even more harmful than saturated fats as a prime source of fatty acids in our diet. That's what all the fuss is about.

The average person in the US consumes 2.2 kg (nearly 5 pounds) of (artificial) trans-fats in a year.

Healthy Eating Pyramid from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Announcement and dining options at Hollywood Universal Studios.

Written by: Catharine Paddock
Writer: Medical News Today

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