September 18, 2008
Holiday Warning: Beware of trans fats in baked goods
High Holy Day revelers beware: Trans fat, created through the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils and known to be linked to heart disease, continues to be common among many popular bakery goods, as California's ban has yet to take effect. In August, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed landmark legislation requiring restaurants to quit using trans fats by January 2010 and for bakeries to follow suit one year later. The ban will not affect packaged goods.
Trans fats became popular because they increase food shelf life and can help preserve flavor, and they are especially common in kosher bakeries, where rules for parve products leave few alternatives.
According to Chana Rubin, author of "Food for the Soul: Traditional Jewish Wisdom for Healthy Eating" (Gefen) and blogger at Healthy Kosher Eating, one form of trans fat "occurs naturally in beef and dairy products."
Trans fat can also be created chemically "by adding hydrogen to polyunsaturated oil" and is common in margarine and shortenings, which, according to Rubin, are "often mainstays in kosher kitchens."
Trans fats raise the level of the kind of cholesterol that is bad for health -- low-density lipoproteins -- while lowering the type of cholesterol that is beneficial -- high-density lipoproteins. High amounts of fat put people at risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
Emily Polon, one of the owners of the Continental Kosher Bakery in Valley Village, said she has been unable to find an all-purpose shortening or margarine that is both free of trans fat and kosher.
"It's definitely something we would love to start offering," she said.
Continental Kosher Bakery offers all the traditional High Holy Day fare, including round challahs and honey cakes, as well as items a little more out of the ordinary, such as apple-cinnamon crowns.
Polon said she expects many of her items will by necessity continue to include trans fats, at least until California's ban takes effect, when manufacturers will feel forced to make kosher products free of trans fats available to commercial bakers on the West Coast.
Rubin hopes, however, that some manufacturers will begin to offer products free of trans fats sooner.
"Manufacturers are going to pick up on this very quickly because there's a market," she said.
However, Rubin fears the alternatives offered may not be much better than what is already available.
"Manufacturers have created most of these products by using palm oil, which, unfortunately, is highly saturated and raises blood cholesterol levels ... so it becomes either hydrogenation or increased saturated fat," Rubin said. "Not a great choice, in my opinion."
Polon said that she is already offering some products, including breads, sponge cakes and biscotti, that are free of trans fats.
Desserts baked at home, said Faye Levy, author of "Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home" (HarperCollins) and a food columnist for the Jerusalem Post, should be made using "vegetable oil as much as possible ... instead of margarine."