What are Trans Fats?

What are Trans Fats?

One thing we know about trans fats is that they are not good for our bodies.  I collected some information that will helpfully provide a bit of perspective and help you make informed choices in the store and in the kitchen when it comes to trans fats.

What are Trans Fats?

Trans fat is a vegetable oil that has had hydrogen added to it. This process is done to extend the shelf life of the food and stop the oil from spoiling. It is also why you will read hydrogenated oil on an ingredient list. Hydrogenated oils are not regularly found in such large quantities in nature.

What do Trans Fats Do To My Body?

Trans fats increase the levels of LDL or “Bad” Cholesterol. This bad cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death of Americans, both men and women. The CDC says “Further reducing trans fat consumption by avoiding artificial trans fat could prevent 10,000-20,000 heart attacks and 3,000-7,000 coronary heart disease deaths each year in the U.S.Source. That’s a huge number!!! Those are 10,000 – 20,000 loved ones: mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, coworkers, and best friends. All of these people could prevent a heart attack just by avoiding certain foods.

so… What foods Have Trans Fats?

Any commercially produced foods can have trans fats. This includes prepared cookies, crackers, cake, pizza dough, doughnuts, biscuits, refrigerated doughs, fried foods, and french fries. Shortening and margarine may contain trans fats.

How Do I Find Trans Fat in my food?

Labels will tell you how many grams of trans fat are in a serving of food. BUT be aware, that companies can legally round down the amount of trans fats per serving. If the food has less than .5 grams of trans fat the label can read 0 grams trans fats. How sneaky is that? Be mindful of the serving size, who eats exactly one serving?

A great example of this is I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray. The label says that it has 0 calories per serving and 0 grams of fat. One serving is 5 sprays. Guess what? The bottle does not have 0 calories or 0 grams of fat… it has a lot, actually, but if you look at the serving size you can be deceived into believing you’re eating nothing.

Another way to avoid trans fat is to read the ingredient list. Anything that says partially hydrogenated has trans fats. You can see an example in the image below. The cookies have 0 grams trans fat but contain partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil. These cookies contain trans fat.

Image copyright CDC.

How Much Trans Fat Can I Consume?

Ideally, the answer to that question is none. “The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of trans fats you eat to less than 1 percent of your total daily calories.  That means if you need 2,000 calories a day, no more than 20 of those calories should come from trans fats.  That’s less than 2 grams of trans fats a day.  Given the amount of naturally occurring trans fats you probably eat every day, this leaves virtually no room at all for industrially manufactured trans fats.” Source.

Alternatives to Trans Fatty Foods:

Opt for foods that are baked or grilled instead of fried, especially in restaurants. Choose olive oil or canola oil when cooking or baking. Eat a wide variety of fresh foods. Make your own pizza crust, pie dough, biscuits and cake. Read the labels.

Do you make an effort to avoid trans fats in foods? What precautions do you take to avoid trans fats? Were you surprised to find trans fats in any foods you did not expect? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Sources and Additional Resources:
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/trans-fat/CL00032
http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/fat/transfat.html
http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/understanding-trans-fats
http://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm079609.htm
http://www.umm.edu/features/transfats.htm
http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/transfats/

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