There are so many different types of “fat” these days – some are good, some are bad, news changes all the time…. it gets hard to keep track! But one type of fat I always try to avoid is “Trans Fats.” I’m definitely picky when it comes to that – I check labels to see if trans fats exist in the product and if they do, I stay away!
When the news about trans fats came out, I visited a number of sites to figure out what they were and the implications for my health. I’ve listed the best sites at the bottom of this article, and have consolidated the info from these sites here.
So why are trans fats so “bad”? First – let’s talk about what trans fats are:
Trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen molecules to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid (creating “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil”). Doesn’t that sound bizarre? It’s industrially engineered fat. In your food. Gross!
One thing to note is that very small amounts of trans fats also occur naturally in some meat and dairy products, including beef, lamb and butterfat. It isn’t clear; though, whether these naturally occurring trans fats have the same bad effects on cholesterol levels as trans fats that have been industrially manufactured.
So what foods contain trans fats?
Most packaged “junk food” contain trans fats. They are also found in fried foods like French fries and doughnuts, and baked goods including pastries, pie crusts, biscuits, pizza dough, cookies, crackers, and stick margarines and shortenings. The reason for this is that partially hydrogenated vegetable oil increases shelf life for food products, make the food taste more “desirable.” Also – many restaurants use oil with trans fats to fry their food – because this kind of oil can be used over and over throughout the day to fry other foods! I bet you didn’t know that your fries were cooked in oil that had been used throughout the day – kind of scary huh?
Why are trans fats unhealthy?
Trans fats have been linked to chronic health problem such as: increased risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. This is because trans fats increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol and actually lower your HDL (good) cholesterol.
How much trans fat can I have daily?
Less than 1% of your total daily calories. So if you eat 2000 calories per day, you can only have 2g trans fat at the most daily. 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.
How do I know if I’m eating trans fats?
Look at the nutrition labels of the foods you’re eating. If trans fats are listed on the nutrition panel – stay away! But the FDA guidelines state that if a product has less than 0.5g trans fat, they can say “no trans fat” on their product labels. But that means the product could still have trans fat in it. “Zero grams trans fat” could actually mean “0.49g trans fat.” Over the course of 3 meals – that could add up to 1.5g trans fat per day! So – when you’re trying to figure out if a product has trans fat in it, look at the ingredients. If you see “partially hydrogenated oils” or “shortening” - that means the food has trans fat in it.