Despite rising concern over the use of trans fat (trans fatty acids) in restaurant food around the nation, Portland State students who eat at PSU Dining locations can indulge worry-free.
Sodexho, the corporation contracted to provide food service on campus, went trans fat-free in September 2005. They said at the time that it would be more responsible to serve trans fat-free foods, given the concerns of the USDA. They also said that they would maintain the overall quality and taste of the food.
Health officials in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, all within the last month, have proposed bans on the substances that are commonly found in fried food, margarine and shortening. Research has shown that a diet heavy in trans fat can lead to coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.
Despite the ban, cafeteria workers said that students do not seem to be very inquisitive about whether their food contains trans fat.
”Every once in a while someone will ask what kind of oil we use, but not very often,” said Jim Schooley, who works the fryers at the PSU Grill. “The students here are mostly young and don’t have a lot of concern about that stuff.”
Two other PSU Dining workers, one who works in Smith Memorial Student Union and one at Victor’s in the Ondine, said that no one has ever inquired about trans fat or what kind of oil is used in the fryers.
Victor’s uses canola oil and the PSU Grill uses soybean oil, both of which contain no trans fat.
”You can notice a difference in the taste, but the reaction to the food has been positive. I think our customers appreciate the healthier choices we offer,” said executive chef for PSU Dining Jorge Castaneda.
With growing concern about the hazards of trans fat, alternative ingredients have become more popular. “It wasn’t difficult to find alternatives for the old oils because food-producing companies recognized the need for non-trans fat products and started producing more,” Castaneda said.
Trace amounts of trans fat can be found naturally in some meat, dairy and a few vegetables. However, most of the trans fat people consume is artificially produced. The semi-solid, fatty, artery-clogging trans fat molecules are formed by a process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil. The food industry uses trans fat to give products a longer shelf life and a more satisfying texture.
If the list of ingredients contains the words “partially hydrogenated,” then the product contains trans fat. Shortening, found in baked goods, also commonly contains trans fat.
Trans fat increases people’s LDL or “bad” cholesterol and lowers HDL or “good” cholesterol, while less solid fatty acids, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, have a positive effect on these levels when eaten in moderation.
Skeptics of the bans argue that the impact on the food service industry would be too drastic. The flavor that trans fat adds to food is difficult to duplicate, and non-trans fat oils don’t last as long in fryers.
”It would be interesting to see how it all works out,” said Sarah Hamstead, a PSU student. “I don’t think all those restaurants want to change what they serve.”
”New York restaurants will probably just charge more for food in order to pay the fines, like they did for the smoking ban,” said Joe Cordo, a PSU student from New York.
Effective January 2006, the FDA has mandated that the amount of trans fat in food products be listed on the nutrition facts label.
Denmark became the first country to impose a ban on trans fat in 2003.
Kraft was sued in 2003 for using trans fat in Oreo cookies. As a result, they started making the cookies without trans fat and reduced or eliminated it in 650 of their other products.
KFC announced recently that it would stop frying chicken in trans fat oil and switch to soybean oil. This came after secretly switching oils in some restaurants to see if consumers noticed a difference, which they did not.
The J.M Smucker Company, maker of Crisco, which is traditionally made from just about pure trans fat, released a trans fat-free version of the shortening in 2004.