Healthier food at O's games an easy change to swallow

The Kickoff

March 22, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles are hoping their attendance will be healthier this year.

In fact, they're almost certain of it now that their main concessionaire - Aramark - has announced that it will stop using cooking oils containing trans fats at Camden Yards this season.

It's the newest trend in food prep. Several major restaurant and fast-food chains already have gone trans-fat-free, and New York City's Board of Health voted in December to ban the use of trans fats in all Big Apple eateries by July 2008. Aramark has followed suit by switching to healthier cooking oil at every sports and entertainment venue it services.

This obviously is great news for those of us who are committed to good nutrition and heart health. I'm particularly impressed that a ballpark controlled by Peter Angelos would take such an interest in my longevity. Must be my rosy attitude toward the club this spring.

Aramark officials say fans won't even notice the difference, and I'll go them one better. Most fans probably wouldn't know trans-fatty acids from transmission fluid, so this is probably as good a place as any to explain what exactly we're talking about.

Most trans fats are synthesized fat molecules that result from the partial hydrogenation of plant oils. They have been connected to unhealthy increases in "bad" LDL cholesterol, which may heighten the risk of heart disease.

(Did you get all that? If so, you may jump ahead to the chapter on saturated, unsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.)

Frankly, I never gave any of this a second thought until I went on the South Beach Diet recently, but now I've turned into one of those irritating nutrition zealots who go around lecturing everybody on what's good for them.

Trans fats can be found in just about anything you already ought to know you shouldn't eat. They also appear in small amounts in some healthy foods, which is basically just to confuse you.

Good rule of thumb: When you're at the supermarket, buy only products bearing a label that says "Now, Zero Trans Fats!" which - loosely translated - means "We used to be poisoning you, but now we're not!"

Of course, it's important to point out that the simple act of removing trans fat from a product - say, Cool Ranch Doritos - doesn't necessarily mean that it's a healthy snack. It's just a healthier snack than it was before. I know this because I'm pretty much an expert on Doritos.

The same goes for the french fries at the ballpark. They're still deep-fried potato strips that contain enough calories to heat a small mobile home, but I guess every little bit helps. At least, that's my rationale when I order a Grilled Stuft Burrito at Taco Bell that's the size of a small dog ("Now, Fido Has Zero Trans Fats!") and wash it down with a Diet Pepsi.

I doubt the Orioles had anything to do with the decision to make the concession stands at Oriole Park more heart-healthy, but I still think it's another sign that a new day is dawning for the organization. The front office has worked hard to persuade disenchanted fans to come back to the ballpark. Failing that, Plan B should be to keep everybody else alive as long as possible.

It's actually part of a national trend toward protecting people from themselves. New York is banning trans fats. Baltimore (New slogan: "Soon, Zero O'Malleys!") has passed an indoor smoking ban, and the Maryland legislature may soon follow suit. Several states have prohibited drivers from using hand-held cell phones.

The civil libertarian in me thinks that this kind of thing is getting out of hand, but my inner health nut thinks that the owners of Aramark deserve a big thumbs up for giving the thumbs down to trans fats.

The bypass they save may be mine.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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