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The Gallivanting Gourmand
Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan
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is a freelance writer based in the Montreal region. He is particularly keen about good food. In his day job, Greg is the executive director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 12.06.04
Montreal

GREG DUNCAN

We're talking fat here

I've never liked margarine very much any way. I also have always preferred a homemade piecrust made with good old-fashioned lard. In my house, butter has ruled and good olive oil has been a staple.

However, like most people, I have eaten more than my share of a recently identified heart-stopping killer.

Trans fat is making headlines everywhere as the bad boy of ingredients found in most processed and packaged foods. In fact, it is difficult to find any product that does not contain some level of trans fatty acids. Naturally occurring low levels of trans fat can be found in butter and lard and even olive oil.

However, it is primarily found in products that necessitate the use of a stabilizer to increase shelf life.

We all know that fat tastes and feels good in the mouth. Perhaps we can take some small amount of comfort in the fact that, when it comes to fat, perhaps butter and lard are better for you after all. Within reason that is and the adage that everything in moderation still rings true.

There are four kinds of fats: monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, saturated fat, and trans fat.

Monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat are the 'good" fats. There is a conflict of opinion about saturated fat, but the majority opinion is that consumption of saturated fat should be kept low, especially in adulthood.

Partial hydrogenation is an industrial process used to make perfectly good oil, such as soybean oil, into perfectly bad oil.

Partially hydrogenated oil is laden with trans fatty acids ('trans fats\). It is the trans fat created by the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils that we should be concerned about. That is the worst kind of fat, far worse than saturated fat.

Trans fats cause significant and serious lowering of HDL (good) cholesterol and a significant and serious increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol; make the arteries more rigid; cause major clogging of arteries; cause or contribute to Type 2 Diabetes; and cause or contribute to other serious health problems.

Trans fats are placed into food to increase shelf life, but they often decrease human life.

EXPLANATION OF TERMS

LDL (bad) cholesterol -- A main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries.

HDL (good) cholesterol -- Carries cholesterol from the blood back to the liver, which processes the cholesterol for elimination from the body. HDL makes it less likely that excess cholesterol in the blood will be deposited in the coronary arteries.

Clearly the consumption of trans fats is cause for concern and you'll want to know what you can do to incorporate good fats into their diets and recipes.

For now it's easy.

Avoid as many packaged goods and fast foods as possible and cook at home using good oils that have not been hydrogenated.

Current labeling of products list the types of oils used. You just need to avoid any that are hydrogenated (partially or otherwise). This will limit your choices substantially until manufacturers comply with upcoming legislation regarding labeling and use of trans fats.

Until then take comfort in the knowledge that you are in control when you prepare a meal or snack yourself.

Here is a great recipe for a party appetizer that includes the use of good olive oil.

Crudités with Olive Oil and Flavored Salts

1/3-cup sesame seeds
12 tsp Salt
1/4-cup curry powder
1/4 cup Hungarian sweet paprika
3/4-cup extra-virgin olive oil
Assorted fresh vegetables

Place sesame seeds in small nonstick skillet set over medium heat. Stir until toasted and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Cool completely. Place in a spice grinder or coffee mill with 1 1/2 tsp salt. Process until finely ground. Transfer mixture to small ramekin.

Mix curry powder and 5 teaspoons salt in small bowl. Transfer mixture to another small ramekin.

Mix paprika and 5 teaspoons salt in small bowl. Transfer mixture to another small ramekin (flavored salts can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and set aside at room temperature).

Pour olive oil into small bowl or ramekin. Place vegetables decoratively on platter. Serve, passing oil and salts separately.

Dip the veggies into the olive oil first, then the salt.

Serves eight.

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