Author’s Note: This is one in an occasional series on how I lost weight – about
30 40 pounds so far. Most of the principles I followed are based on The Okinawa Diet Plan. While these methods worked well for me, please see a doctor before embarking on ANY weight-loss plan. I explain more about dieting here.
I always suspected that something was wrong with America’s food. While my mom was a good cook by 1970s standards, I thought food should be fresher and that each ingredient should taste great regardless of what sauce was dumped on it. I was deeply dubious of meals that came out of a can.
I had this weird idea that there should be real cheese in Macaroni & Cheese instead of a list of chemicals that could boost a rocket into orbit. I wondered why some hot dogs had a “funny” flavor to them. I thought bread should not be the consistency of toilet paper. I questioned why fruit was rock hard and vegetables tasted like cardboard.
So when I began college in 1982, I couldn’t wait to expand my food horizons. Oops, I went to Indiana University in Bloomington. Still, there were options there that I never had before: one or two health food stores, a handful of interesting restaurants and a humongous salad bar at my dorm.
When I graduated and moved to Arizona in 1986, a new grocery store called Ceres opened near my apartment. The place could have been the prototype for Whole Foods. There, I was introduced to all kinds of then-new foods such as quinoa and amaranth. But the store was too far ahead of its time and eventually closed.
Ever since then, though, I’ve sought out high-quality food, skipping normal grocery stores as much as possible. Another small Arizona chain, Reay’s Ranch Market, which eventually was gobbled up by Wild Oats, used to get high-end beef that would have made chefs at Morton’s jealous.
During this whole time of exploring food, I always strived to eat what I thought was a healthy diet; hey, I just happen to love steamed vegetables. More recently, I’ve greatly cut back on most animal products after my cholesterol jumped to 295 four years ago. As it turns out, cutting out meat and further increasing plant-based foods, cut my cholesterol to a comparatively respectable 192.
I also suspect another very tasty food ingredient led to my cholesterol problem: partially hydrogenated oils. Keep in mind that hydrogenated oils are in just about every food product you can imagine: margarine, peanut butter, bread, cookies, donuts, salad dressings, fast food, cooking oils and candy are all good examples.
While my brother, who’s a nutritionist, warned me of that ingredient’s dangers back in my early Arizona years, it took time to greatly cut back on the creamy, artificially-made oil. Once I scored that 295, I finally dumped that poison for good. I suspect it will take years before all that hydrogenated crap is cleared out of my arteries – after all, this stuff remains solid at room temperature.
Experts have been ineffectually sounding the alarms about hydrogenated oils for several years, but I suspect most Americans don’t realize just how many products this gray sludge is in. Apparently, someone in New York City Health Department does know.
Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner, is urging all city restaurants to stop serving food with hydrogenated oils, which also are known as trans fats. Reason? Heart disease is the biggest killer in New York.
Frieden’s request triggered several stories in The New York Times, including this one. While most high-end restaurants avoid trans fats, up to 60 percent of all restaurants in the city use them, reports the Times.
New York’s request follows a Food and Drug Administration decision that there are NO SAFE LEVELS of trans fats in a healthy diet. The FDA is even requiring the levels of trans fats be included on nutrition labels.
It’s interesting to note that Denmark already has enacted a ban on trans fats and Canada is considering it, reports the Times. Such bans must scare the bejeebers out of food manufacturers and for good reason:
- Trans fats simply have the longest shelf live. The longer a box of cookies can gather dust at a store, the greater likelihood it will be sold.
- Trans fats are creamy/smooth on the tongue. Nabisco, the makers of Oreos, reports difficulty making the middle creamy enough to satisfy lifelong consumers. Indeed, the middles of health-food versions of the cookie have a different consistency.
- Trans fats are cheap, cheap, cheap.
But one of my discoveries about food after giving up trans fats: all other foods taste better. While I can’t prove it, there is something about trans fats that deaden the palate. I suspect the oil, nay sludge, remains on the tongue, covering up the taste buds. Most other oils seem to dissolve faster in the mouth.
Removing trans fats from your plate also may expand your lifespan while shrinking your waistline. I know it greatly helped in my own weight-loss efforts.
An easy way for me to keep the gray goo out of my diet goes back to my roots about eating – I favor quality above all else. I simply equate trans fats with the marginal food I ate while growing up, which makes it easier to pay a little bit extra for a product made without partially hydrogenated oil.
Even more importantly, we never feed our children trans fats. So when Seth was introduced to graham crackers at school, we trudged over to Whole Foods and bought him trans fat-free version of the cookies. He loves them.
I suspect, though, it will be a long time before America wakes up to this dietary threat. How can most people even keep up with the poisons in our food? Instead, food manufacturers and restaurants must be targeted. Whether through regulation, legislation or threat of lawsuits, hydrogenated oils need to be flushed down the drain.