Food Police Or Criminal Fat

The Louisville Metro Board of Health recommended a ban on trans fats at its Feb. 3 meeting.

So now they want to tell us what we can eat? Oh please!

Is this the case of over-zealous know-it-alls telling us what to do, or is there any evidence that the food police are heading to the scene of an actual crime. I thought I’d take a look at the evidence, dust for fingerprints, scan for stray DNA, extend a metaphor beyond the bounds of the law.

Trans fats are used to extend food shelf life. Although there’s a little bit of naturally occurring trans fats in meat, there is some question this fat behaves the same as the artificial trans fat that appears in many commercial baked goods and commercial fried foods.

I looked at some recent research about trans fat. Most of this data is from a systematic review of studies involving about 140,000 patients. The review was published last year in the Journal of AOAC International. Two of its authors, Dariush Mozaffarian and Walter Willett, have published a great deal about trans fats, including a comprehensive 2006 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Here’s what the research shows:

  • Trans fats are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
  • It only takes a little trans fat to do a lot of damage. In one study, each 2 percent increase in trans fat consumption associated with a 23 percent increase in heart disease.
  • Trans fat seems to stimulate more weight gain than other fats, especially around the belly. This is the most dangerous weight gain, linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
  • In recent years, researchers have shown that inflammation — as measured by certain markers in the blood stream — increases your risk of heart disease. That’s why more doctors now recommend you have something called a CRP test in tandem with your cholesterol testing. CRP is the test for C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation. If it’s high, your risk of a heart attack is high. Trans fat consumption associates with a rise in CRP and other inflammatory markers, including interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor.
  • Some studies suggest that increased trans fat consumption could increase insulin resistance, leading to a higher risk of diabetes.
  • One study showed higher infertility rates in women with increased trans fat consumption. Note that it will take more than a single study to confirm this connection.
  • Another single study showed an increased risk of gall stones in men with increased trans fat consumption. Again, no single study is definitive, and more research must test this conclusion.
  • Finally, a study showed an  increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly with increased trans fat consumption.

You might conclude the food police have a good line on a killer.  Trans fats are more dangerous than even the saturated fats health experts have been warning us about for years.

Frank Repka, an associate emeritus professor from the University of Toledo Medical Center, explained this to me a few years ago. Repka is a Ph.D. nutritionist. He says trans fats actually reduce the number of cholesterol disposal sites in your liver.

You have special ports or receptors in your liver that capture and remove bad cholesterol — you know, low-density lipoprotein.   Saturated fats inhibit the number of the receptors you make, Repka said. But trans fats shut down those receptors six or seven times more efficiently than saturated fats.

If you take a cholesterol-lowering drug, it increases the number of those LDL receptors in your liver. If you eat trans fats, you’re working against that goal big time.

If trans fats make up as little as 1 percent to 3 percent of your daily diet, they make trouble.  The American Heart Association recommends that trans fats make up no more than 1 percent of your diet. That’s not much: 2 grams a day in a 2,000 calorie diet. Carefully examine food labels.  Even if the label doesn’t include trans fats in its nutrient profile, look at the ingredients. If they include partially hydrogenated oil of any type, you’re consuming trans fats.

There’s probably little chance that Louisville will adopt the trans fat ban. Maybe citizens can establish a neighborhood watch.  Note the suspicious activity down at the Bob Evans restaurant and their servings of Stacked & Stuffed Hotcakes. There is nothing sexy about these, despite the double entendre of the name. Each serving packs 6 to 7 grams of trans fats. Remember that statistic about each 2 percent increase in trans fat increasing heart attack risk by 23 percent?

Happy dining.

Some links to more info:

Here’s our mayor talking to LEO. Scroll down to the question about trans fat. The mayor says people need to be educated to discuss the issue with their representative. Looks like the education needs to start with the mayor. OK, well, the guy can’t know everything.

The new kid in food town

I love grocery stores. So it’s been an absolute nail-biter watching the new Fresh Market go up at the end of my street.

I tour grocery stores on vacation. When I visit my sister Ellen in Dayton, I always squeeze in a visit to the fabulous Dorothy Lane Market near her home. A few years ago I found a wonderful grocery store near my Aunt Ruth’s house in California. I think of it often. Why didn’t I take pictures? But I am no shopping snob. I love my neighborhood Kroger and Paul’s Fruit Market as much as I do the high-end places only suited for special occasion grocery binges. About the only thing I like better than grocery stores is the big open food market in Barcelona where we bought bread, wine, and cheese every afternoon of our visit. We ate eat these for dinner in our little apartment: a different cheese every day, Spain’s fabulous wines, and baguettes that inspire poetry.

So when The Fresh Market on Brownsboro Road near I-264 opened for the first time today, I was there 16 minutes later.

For me, part of the shopping experience is aesthetic, and Fresh Market is among the best on this score. You walk into their large floral department, and flow into the rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Very enticing. The lighting here is better than the usual fluorescent grocery store buzz. (But don’t be fooled by the giant windows on the outside of the building. Those are fake. This is electric light, not natural. This is a big-box store and we saw the block walls go up before they were covered with fake windows.)

The vegetable and fruit selection was impressive. I was delighted to see beautiful green beans – they tend to look like hell in a lot of places this time of year. The mushroom selection wasn’t bad, but there were a lot more dried varieties than fresh. Mushroom prices, of course, were astronomical, but some of the other produce was on par with Kroger. There were many out-of-season fruits in knockout colors, all for very high prices.

The meats and seafood selections were more than complete and almost as lovely as the produce. I actually stood open-mouthed staring at the Maryland crab cakes, two for $5, until interrupted by a cheerful employee. All the employees were very chatty, warm, and informative. I’ll be interested to see if that vibe continues, and how deep it actually runs. It was very exciting to see not only flank steak – tough to find around here for some reason – and short ribs. Recipes danced in my head.

The prices – no surprise – were almost uniformly high. Boneless skinless chicken breast was on sale for $2.99 a pound. I’d love to try them, but I can get them at Kroger or Meijer for a buck or so cheaper.

Traffic flow in this store was exceptionally good. I’m a perimeter shopper, rarely bothering the prepared foods in the center aisles, and this store was ideal for me, while still seducing me through the bakery and freshly prepared foods. I didn’t buy the pot stickers they had on sale, though I was sorely tempted. This will be an experiment for another day. Whole Foods, which has a similar fresh prepared-food section, wins the Bland & Beautiful prize for theirs. I hope The Fresh Market cooks have a spice rack and a salt shaker and know how to use them.

Of course for my introductory Fresh Market jaunt I explored the center aisles where a mixture of organic, natural boxed and canned goods was not so overwhelming that they left out the Cheerios — the fifth food group in my life.

The bakery was pretty, with the fussy petit fours and tortes and cakes, but all made at some mysterious central processing factory. The guy at the counter didn’t know where that was. They do make some of the breads and rolls at the store. There was a generous selection of breads. I did not miss the scary blue and yellow cakes one sees at Kroger. Do people really eat those things?

I bought bagels, made elsewhere. A BIG disappointment. They were the typical grocery store bagel – that is, bread formed into a doughnut shape. Worse, they had that near crumbly texture that reminds me of stale bread. Grocery store bagels are so rarely any good, I don’t know why I thought these would be different. Alas, Louisville seems to be without a good bagel. (And a good pizza, although a fellow shopper recommended a new place, Spinelli’s, on Goose Creek.)

Fun and useless was a large candy section near the front of the store. I loved the colors, and even thought about buying my favorite chocolate bar, Green & Black Dark Chocolate, but that was clearly Satan talking. I only find Satan cute when we’re in the wine section. Kentucky grocery stores can’t have wine sections, so Satan’s pull was inconsequential and I saved the $3.95.

Besides the bagels, I brought home those Maryland crab cakes. I’ll have them for lunch and let you know.