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Bayfront Medical Center punts trans fats

The hospital serves nearly 80,000 meals a month.

Published February 4, 2007


Just in time for American Heart Month, Bayfront Medical Center will eliminate trans fats from meals served to patients and anyone else who eats on the campus.

The hospital's decision follows a growing trend to reduce or eliminate trans fats in restaurants and businesses, fueled by an FDA decision in January 2006 to force food manufacturers to list trans fats on all products.

About the same time the FDA began stressing the dangers of trans fat, Bayfront started a plan to eliminate trans fats from the food it serves and sells in the cafeteria, gift shop, two on-site coffee shops and vending machines, said chief operating officer Eric Feder.

This is no small task for a hospital that serves about 80,000 meals a month. About six months ago Bayfront began blocking orders from distributors that don't list trans fats on their labels, said Mike Hodgkin, director of food and nutrition services. Now all products used and sold at Bayfront must be labeled showing that they are trans fat free.

"If they can't prove it, they're out," Hodgkin said.

Eliminating trans fats will be a continuing process, he said. Everything from frying oil to bran muffins can contain trans fats, which until recently were used to increase the shelf life of many common products. This makes it hard to weed out every product that might contain trans fats, making it a constant effort on Hodgkin's part to make sure every product is labeled and trans fat free.

So why go through all the trouble? Dr. Kevin Garner, cardiologist and co-director of the Bayfront Cardiac Division, says eliminating trans fats from the hospital is one of the first steps in a patient's treatment.

"One of the biggest pushing forces and goals is to become a cardiac hospital," Garner said of Bayfront.

Removing trans fats from the meals that cardiac patients receive is no different from not allowing them to smoke cigarettes, he said. Trans fats are responsible for increasing LDL, or bad cholesterol, and decreasing HDL, good cholesterol. This can affect the lining of the arteries and how well blood vessels constrict and dilate, and lead to high inflammatory states in the body, Garner said.

From the time cardiac patients enter the door at Bayfront, they begin a program that helps them recognize and avoid trans fats in their diet.

"The goal is really that the whole society gets rid of this," Garner said.

Other local and national businesses have begun eliminating trans fats. Hooters chief operating officer Sal Melilli said he expects Hooters to be frying food with trans-fat-free oils sometime this quarter in its stores in Tampa Bay, New York and Chicago. Melilli said they began testing the healthier oils after deciding to make the switch about six months ago.

Marriott and Burger King also announced this week that they will be moving to trans-fat-free oils. Marriott will have made the switch by the middle of the month; Burger King, late next year.

Janie Norman, nutritionist for the Diabetes Center at the University of South Florida in Tampa, helps diabetes patients achieve and maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

"Trans fats, in the past, could be in a product that said no cholesterol," Norman said.

She was glad to see the trend having an impact on private businesses and said consumers' demanding trans-fat-free options would likely drive the food industry to continue making the change.

"It is in the consumers' health interest to have lots of choices that don't have trans fats," Norman said.

[Last modified February 3, 2007, 20:54:05]

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