By Gelyka Dumaraos
Your lockdown cravings may feed your food satisfaction for a time—but are they safe in the long run?
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has given birth to hundreds of online food businesses. Homemade treats fill everyone’s social media feed—looking all so yummy that one would easily get enticed of placing an order right then and there. From baked sushi, to ube cheese pan de sal, to Korean-inspired minimalist cakes, gooey cookies, moist chocolate desserts, to cheesecakes and even donuts in different flavors among others. As many stayed at home and adapted working remotely, food businesses have all gone digital to reach the public. Indeed, these trending quarantine foods are made easier and more accessible in just a few taps.
But these delightful, mostly-baked treats also come with a threat.
These may contain trans fats, an unhealthy ingredient mostly found in baked goods and fast-food products that, if consumed in large amounts, may not just deliver your much-needed satisfaction. It can bring alarming health risks in the long run too.
Threat to the heart
Trans fats is an industrially-produced type of dietary fat that is made solid through hydrogenation.
According to Dr. Ranulfo B. Javelosa, Jr., cardiologist at the Philippine Heart Center, eating food that is rich in trans fats may increase the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and may reduce the amount of beneficial HDL cholesterol. Trans fats create inflammation which is associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke—the world’s top killers. The World Health Organization (WHO) names cardiovascular disease as one of the world’s killer with 31 percent of deaths worldwide being linked to it. This is equivalent to 17.7 million deaths each year.
If trans fats consumption is partnered with a sedentary lifestyle, overweight, and obesity, vices such as smoking and too much alcohol consumption, there is a greater risk of having a heart problem in the future.
Trans fats are also linked to chronic conditions such as diabetes as they contribute to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing the disease.
The Philippine Heart Association urges everyone to keep their heart healthy by avoiding eating junk food and fast food because they contain large amounts of trans fat that clogs the important blood vessels and leads to cardiac arrests.
However, even when it has been proven that trans fats bring health risks for the heart, they are still found in many food products.
With the current pandemic going on, there are a lot of food businesses mushroomed on social media offering desserts and snacks. Some are new owners, trying their newly-discovered baking and cooking talent during quarantine, while others are from traditional businesses that adapted social media marketing to reach out to a wider market.
Even as a new baker-business owner, Cebu-based baker Baby Camarillo has always known trans fats as an unhealthy ingredient. That is why she sees to it that they do not use any ingredient which has trans fats on them. What they use are substitutes—butter and saturated vegetable fats, including coconut oils.
As someone who has been selling baked goods online, she says bakers would know what is healthy from unhealthy ingredients once they started baking.
She says, “It is only when you start baking when you see the unhealthy ingredients they have.”
Part of this is knowing the risks of trans fats, which she does not use in her business. Considering her family’s history of diabetes and heart disease, Camarillo says she searches for ways to use healthier options. She has baked with stevia and erythritol to sweeten her goods and sometimes mixed coconut flour to replace some of the grains. She also uses butter and coconut oil in baking and cooking. “I do this to take care of my family and serve those people suffering from diabetes and heart diseases like my siblings and friends.”
This is the same with traditional bakery like the 81-year-old Kamuning Bakery Café in Quezon City which also uses butter and lard since 1939. According to owner Wilson Lee Flores, the café has long been introducing healthy baked products to their customers and adheres to old-fashioned and artisanal baking tradition. While some people would not understand their healthy products’ benefits and their higher prices compared to the others, more customers are appreciating them nowadays, Flores notes.
For Camarillo, although she sticks to baking healthy goods only, she admits that not many understand the bad effects of trans fats. “As expected, a lot of people are not aware of the bad effects of trans fats and even too much sugar. They only care about the taste.” The operation costs of the business can also be affected when one chooses to go the healthier path. Camarillo says she gets good feedback but the problem is she cannot sell her goods at the right price and only get small markup.
Meanwhile, Flores understands that by using natural unsaturated liquid vegetable oils such as olive, canola, corn, or soy oils, their products have shorter shelf life (unlike those which are mass produced in food factories) and, therefore, cannot be sold in supermarkets. To Flores, this is not an issue. “Although Kamuning Bakery Café foods have a shorter shelf life, our customers shall enjoy longer and healthier lives,” he says.
‘Mission before commission’
For Flores, health and wellness have been a global trend and, more importantly, a personal belief, that is why he says their bakery continues to bring importance to healthier products. Continuous research and improvement on their products is an added service to their avid customers, he says.
It also helps to know where the ingredients are sourced. Kamuning Bakery Café sources its ingredients in top local flour millers with good-quality flour and gets their eggs, fruits, and other ingredients from local farms and suppliers with a satisfactory track record. Camarillo, also sources her ingredients from online shops selling baking ingredients from premium and trusted brands.
“I suggest that we all try to consciously exert a little extra effort, research, invest some more resources and attention to details so that we can bake healthy yet no less yummy foods,” Flores adds.
In addition, Camarillo believes that it is still better to serve their customers with healthier products than go against what they stand for. As she stresses, “mission before commission.”
To be continued
This story was produced under the ‘(Un)Covering Trans Fats Media Training and Fellowship Program’ by Probe Media Foundation Inc. (PMFI) and ImagineLaw (IL). The views and opinions expressed in this piece are not necessarily those of PMFI and IL.