'Tis the season for fish and chips on the beach - guilt free.
We can't stop eating them, so health authorities are continuing with a crafty plan to scoop chip fat from our diets.
It's hoped 2500 tonnes of fat a year can be culled from our takeaways through improved cooking.
"It won't exactly see fries receive the Heart Foundation tick, but it's an improvement," says Heart Foundation nutritionist Judith Morley-John.
About 190 establishments, one-third of our fish-and-chip shops, have already learnt to reduce fat through using the right oils, cutting thicker chips and serving smaller scoops, thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Health-funded Chip Group, which comprises the Heart Foundation, potato growers and industry representatives.
Chips have long been a dietary villain because of their salt and fat levels, Morley-John says.
Kiwis chow down on seven million scoops of hot chips a week, or 120,000 tonnes a year. A typical portion contains as much as 48 grams of fat, which is 80 per cent of the daily recommended amount for adults.
The Chip Group wants that amount halved, even if it means reducing the scoop size.
Scoops contain up to 600g in some shops, but certified Chip Group operators are encouraged to serve only 330g.
Operators in the past have not been motivated by health standards and did not realise the implications of their food preparation, nutrition educator Glenda Gourley says.
"A potato in a paddock has 0.1 per cent of fat. When it's fried, it contains up to 22 per cent fat."
The industry also struggles with a high turnover of a largely foreign workforce, so ongoing education is paramount, Gourley says.
Certified Chip Group operators know to fry in canola or sunflower oil with no more than 20 per cent saturated fat.
They must throw out used oil and cut thick chips from agria potatoes which absorb less fat.
And healthy chips are good for business. Michael Huang, owner of Oppies Takeaways, in Rotorua, says it cost him 30 per cent more to upgrade his cooking oil.
"We've had a big jump in sales. They're up 100 per cent from four years ago. We get 200 to 500 customers a day."
Huang was named the nation's best Chip Group chip cook last year. The fat content of his chips fell from 11 per cent to 7 per cent and they taste better, he says.
Each year up to 700 chip cooks gain certification, Gourley says.
"Invercargill's very proactive - 25 operators have come forward for training.
"Paeroa's involvement has been driven by the local health agency. Hamilton also did a lot, but it was motivated by the city council."
A GROWING PROBLEM
It's easy to loosen our belts and relax into Christmas indulgence, but New Zealanders get fatter every year.
Between 1997 and 2009, there was a rapid increase in the kilograms collected, with 33 per cent of us overweight and 28 per cent obese.
Kiwi adults put on an average half a kilogram each year, figures from the Ministry of Health's latest New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey show.
So over your adult life from 25 to 60, you could expect to pack on 17kg of fat, if you're not careful.
As a nation, we add 2.2 million kg of fat each year to our national girth. That's the equivalent of another 24,000 normal-sized men, or a small rural town, joining society.
- Sunday Star Times
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