Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bad Bad Oil {or} When To Use The "A" Word.

You've probably heard some buzz lately about oil. No, not crude oil, although there has been some buzz about that too. I'm talking about the kind of oil you eat. You've also probably heard about hydrogenated oil, and how horrible it is for you.

Hydrogenated palm oil:

I avoid partially hydrogenated and fully hydrogenated oils (trans fats) like the plague. Eating them increases your risk for heart disease and cancer. They raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol, and slow your metabolism, among a myriad of other horrid health effects. Our bodies don't know how to use this kind of un-earthly man-made oil.

If you're like me, and you try to avoid eating this garbage, eating out at restaurants can be quite tricky. After all, a lot of restaurants use "fry oil" which usually contains hydrogenated oil. I try to go to restaurants that use quality ingredients. But even then, I ask what kind of oil they use. It's surprising how often I get a blank stare when I ask this question. Usually restaurant employees have absolutely no clue as to what oil is used. Often, they need me repeat the term "hydrogenated," because they've never heard of it. So, I'll share with you a few tactics to deal with this dilemma, should you find yourself in this kind of situation.

When you get that blank "I don't know anything about oil" stare, follow one or more of these tactics until you get the answer you need:

1) Ask if you can see the actual bottle of oil that the restaurant uses. I've had people go into the kitchen and come back with the (usually huge) bottle for me to read.

2) Ask if they can go ask the chef about the oil and tell you. This sometimes works well. Make sure to emphasize that you don't want any partially or fully hydrogenated oil.

3) If they do use hydrogenated oil, ask if they can substitute regular butter or olive oil for the hydrogenated oil. Sometimes they can/are willing to do this for you.

4) If they don't seem to be taking you very seriously, I give you permission to use the "A" word. Yes, that's right... ALLERGIC. If you tell them that you are ALLERGIC to hydrogenated oil (and actually, you kind of are, because it's so toxic), restaurant staff usuallly get serious pretty quick. They don't want you going into allergic convulsions on their restaurant floor, or filing a law suit.

Last summer, L.C. and I were eating dinner at a restaurant at Pier 39 in San Francisco. I asked the waitress if the pasta dish I wanted to order contained hydrogenated oil. She didn't know, or seem too concerned. When I mentioned that I was ALLERGIC to it, she went and got the head chef, who personally came to our table to talk to me about it, and he went and got me the container of oil to read. So, this tactic can be very effective. It turned out that the pasta dish did normally contain it, but they were able to use olive oil for me instead.

Be careful when you read food labels too. As of January '06, food products are required to list the amount of trans fat on their nutrition label. However, if the product contains less than .05% , they can still say that it is trans fat free (and they usually do, in big bold print). Also, I've recently learned that mono-diglycerides are very similar to trans fat, and should be avoided.

It's sad to me that we have become a society so far removed from real, whole, foods and fats. It takes knowledge and planning to eat well. As the old adage goes... try to eat foods close to their source, and you'll be much healthier.

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