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MailTribune.com
  • Trans-fats transition

    Some local food operators have cut trans fats, but for donut makers, who see flavor as a big issue, eliminating them will be a hard call
  • John Angelopolous proudly holds up a huge container of cooking oil that has no heart-clogging trans fats.
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  • John Angelopolous proudly holds up a huge container of cooking oil that has no heart-clogging trans fats.
    "We've been using this for the past 25 years," said Angelopolous, a 59-year-old Central Point resident who owns the popular Yellow Basket drive-in restaurant on Highway 99 just south of Pine Street.
    Angelopolous hesitates before announcing that his french fries are trans-fat free. He runs to the back to check and brings out a bag of frozen fries that have been blanched. They also are labeled as containing zero trans fats.
    Many restaurants in the valley haven't used trans fats in years because of growing health concerns. Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Ashland, for instance, doesn't use trans fats in its baked goods, according to the company website.
    But the prospect of dropping trans fats is not appealing to every food business operator, some of whom say despite its drawbacks, it works well for deep frying and creating pastries.
    The federal government plans to force a phaseout of the once-popular cooking oil that has clogged many an artery over the years.
    The Food and Drug Administration last week labeled trans fats a public health risk. The agency estimated that if the country gets rid of the popular cooking oil, it could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths annually.
    While use of trans fats is on the decline, the FDA says the average American still eats around a gram of trans fat a day, down from 4.6 grams per day in 2003.
    Health experts say trans fats can raise levels of "bad" cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
    Trans fats are widely considered the worst kind of fat for your heart, even worse than saturated fats, which also can contribute to heart disease.
    Butter, which had a bad rap for years, is considered a better alternative than eating margarine, which has trans fats.
    Angelopolous has Type II diabetes, so he tries to avoid trans fats and has added soups, salads and fruit cups to his menu to offer a healthier alternative to fries.
    "We depend on our repeat customers," he said.
    Some businesses such as Donut Country, a popular hangout in east Medford, tried to use oils free of trans fats, but the customers objected.
    "We got some complaints," said owner Linda Kendrick.
    She said the donuts didn't taste as good and were oilier without trans fats.
    Kendrick said the company that supplies her cooking oil is trying to perfect a different type of shortening to use for making donuts.
    In the meantime, Kendrick said, her donuts are cooked at a very precise temperature and the oils are filtered to ensure the correct flavor and to minimize oil absorption.
    "We do try to keep it as good as possible," she said.
    After 24 years running her business, Kendrick said, she still eats donuts.
    Her customers, many of them older, sit at spare tables chatting as they sip coffee and eat donuts. Behind the display case filled with dozens of types of donuts, her busy crew prepares the batter and makes the glazes. Outside, cars queue up for the drive-up window.
    Many of the Donut Country customers seemed unconcerned about trans fats.
    "I really don't care," said Cliff Bundy, a 73-year-old Medford resident. "When you get to be my age, does it really matter?"
    Bundy said he used to eat donuts every day when he lived in Alaska. Now he treats himself to a donut at least once a week.
    "These are some of the best donuts around," he said.
    Phyllis Hicks, a Medford resident, enjoyed her once-a-week donut and wasn't concerned that one of its ingredients has been declared a public health risk.
    "I'm 87 years old, and I'm still here," she said.
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.
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