CAS cuts trans fats in food prep

In an attempt to keep up with nutrition trends and health-conscientious students, Campus Auxiliary Services (CAS) recently initiated the use of trans fat-free fryer oil in its food preparation.

According to Ginny Geer-Mentry, director of dining services, this is just one of the steps CAS is making to continue to improve the choices students have at the dining halls. In addition to the fryer oil, onion rings and mozzarella sticks are pre-fried in zero trans fat oil before they are sent to the school. The David's brand muffins and Tyson chicken strips, which are used for subs, are also all trans fat-free.

The replacement oil, called MelFry Zero Trans Fat fryer oil, is made from soybeans. It is more expensive, but has a longer shelf life and is much healthier.

The effort to remove trans fats comes from growing public knowledge about the negative health effects that trans fats have on the body, specifically their role in promoting heart disease and obesity. Trans fats are produced by taking liquid vegetable oils and adding hydrogen atoms in a process called hydrogenation. Partially hydrogenated fats are used to give foods - especially cookies, crackers and baked goods - longer shelf lives and to enhance taste. Trans fats also occur naturally in some animal based products.

Growing public awareness of the negative effects trans fats have on the body has lead to several major food manufacturers and restaurant chains to cut trans fats from the ingredients in their foods. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also has a new requirement that all food products list the trans fats content on the Nutrition Facts Label underneath the saturated fat content, effective Jan. 1, 2006. However, foods labeled as having zero grams of trans fats may still contain hydrogenated oil if it is less than .5 grams. As a result of these changes people are more able to easily see the trans fat content of their food. Unfortunately, this is rather difficult in restaurants and dining halls.

The response of most students seems to be positive towards CAS's initiatives, and some students would like to see similar changes continue to be made in the future. Freshman Anthony Dambra stated that "I don't eat trans fats" and is hoping that he'll see more wheat products in the dining halls in the future.

Additional ideas from students include continuing to replace food items with trans fat-free alternatives as they become available, and an increased number of choices of vegetable and grain dishes, especially organic products. Kelly Dunn, a freshman, noted that, "I'd like to see more fruit." Other students would like healthier alternatives in the to-go dining facilities. According to sophomore Sean Gradowitz, "I think that it is a personal responsibility to choose to eat well." Students who are not conscious about what they are eating may not be taking advantage of the changes CAS has put into place. While serving trans fat-free products comes at no cost to students, the switch to more organic products would increase the price of food substantially.

As of right now CAS serves organic yogurt, vegan soup, wheat wraps and whole-grain pizza crust, and is currently experimenting with wheat pancakes as a to-go item in the Millennium Market.

Other colleges in the area have also made the transition to trans fat-free foods and providing their students with healthier choices. According to Jim Liebow, general manager of Bon Appetit, the dining service at St. John Fisher College, "We have been serving trans fat-free foods for about three years now." They also make it a point to serve their students a variety of organic foods and products that are grown locally. SUNY Fredonia is also in the process of transitioning to trans fat-free products, according to Dean Messina, assistant to the director of dining services, although they are not advertising their changes to the students as of yet.

CAS will continue to offer more trans fat-free foods as they become available by the companies who are working to make their products trans fat-free. According to Geer-Mentry, changes will be advertised to students via posters around the dining halls. Every two weeks CAS meets with a student advisory board to discuss concerns and problems that need to be addressed. By providing trans fat-free choices, CAS can make finding a healthy meal easier for the health-conscientious student on the go.