NYC trans fat ban gives local chefs food for thought |

NYC trans fat ban gives local chefs food for thought

Ryan Salm/Sierra SunBlue Agave's specialty chicken fajitas are pictured here. The Mexican cantina uses canola oil and butter in cooking, which do not contain the artificial trans fat that was banned in New York City restaruants on Dec. 5.

The recent ban of heart-clogging artificial trans fats in New York City has North Tahoe and Truckee restaurant owners reconsidering their fry oils.

“I’m surprised California wasn’t the first to do it,” said Steve Topol, owner of Blue Agave in Tahoe City, whose Mexican food does not contain trans fatty acids.

In a tourist-based economy like North Tahoe and Truckee, many business owners depend on diners’ dollars. The ban does not affect California, but local restaurants are considering the quality of their products and the future of fat.

“We’ll sit down with our suppliers in Reno … and probably experiment with taste,” Topol said.

Trans fat is made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil ” a process called hydrogenation ” which increases the shelf life and flavor. The fat can be found in vegetable shortenings, margarine, crackers, cookies, and other processed foods.

Health and nutrition groups say artificial trans fat contributes to heart disease. Studies have shown they raise bad cholesterol and lower the good kind. Researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health estimate that trans fats contribute to 30,000 U.S. deaths each year.

The McDonald’s locations within New York City will comply with the ban on artificial trans fat, but North Tahoe, Truckee and the rest of the U.S. will have to wait.

“Reducing, and where possible eliminating, trans fatty acids from our menu continues to be a priority at McDonald’s,” William Whitman, spokesman for McDonald’s USA, said in an e-mail to the Sierra Sun. “In the last five years we’ve tested a variety of oil blends in our U.S. restaurants to identify alternatives that meet our standards for quality and taste … we are not yet prepared to announce a national rollout for an alternative oil blend.”

Canola oil is the preferred cooking oil of many local restaurants. Compared with sunflower, corn and peanut oils, canola has the lowest ratios of saturated to unsaturated fat. Canola oil costs just 16 cents more per gallon than basic fry oil, according to SYSCO Food Services, a major food product retailer. Basic fry oil costs 58 cents per pound to canola oil’s 74 cents.

Jill Martinez, a SYSCO customer service representative, said that the fry oil is one of their only remaining products containing trans fat.

Blue Coyote Bar and Grill in Truckee, and now Squaw Valley, uses canola oil in its deep fryer, and buys pizza dough and breads from Franco French in Reno.

“I was told that [canola oil] was a better product as far as healthiness goes … but as far as trans fat, I don’t know,” said Jake McCormick, Blue Coyote part-owner.

Sawtooth Ridge in Tahoe City also uses natural products such as olive oil and real butter.

“As far as we know, we don’t even have [trans fat],” said Lisa Luebben, manager at Sawtooth Ridge Cafe in Tahoe City.

Both restaurants said they would consider re-evaluating their products if called for.

And while McCormick is concerned with the healthiness of his product, he also emphasizes flavor.

“Taste is important to me first,” McCormick said.

Harvard School of Public Health researchers helped sound the alarm about trans fat and coronary heart disease risk in the early 1990s. Beginning last January, food manufacturers are required to list trans fat on the Nutrition Facts label on all food products.

“People are going to eat what they want to eat ” the problem is excess. To me, trans fat is another attempt by the government to control people’s health,” Topol said.

-The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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