Trans fatty acids, better known as “trans fats” have emerged as the food industry’s newest bad boy recruit. Trans fats are formed during a process called hydrogenation, which converts a relatively healthy, unsaturated liquid fat, something like corn oil or soybean oil, into a solid one. One of the main reasons for doing this is to give the fat longer shelf life, so it’s more convenient and more appealing for restaurants and food manufacturers.
As we all know, if something has an enhanced appeal to a restaurant owner or food manufacturer it probably isn’t going to be for health enhancing reasons. The problem is that the body treats hydrogenated fat more like saturated fat (butter or animal fat). Saturated fat has long been known to clog arteries and some studies indicate trans fat may be even more of a food evil, and here comes the nasty part; on food labels, trans fatty acids are not included under “saturated fat.”
In America to help consumers, the Food and Drug Administration is requiring that all food labels list trans fats by January 1st 2006, so you ask until then, how can you know which foods are safe and which contain these camouflaged stealth fats?
For information on this we took advice from the experts at the American Dietetic Association (ADA), “Until now, consumers were really in the dark about trans fatty acids. In fact, most people are probably very confused if they are aware of them at all right now,” says Cindy Moore, MS, RD, an ADA spokesperson. Moore is also director of nutrition therapy at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
Here are four ways you can make healthier choices at the supermarket.
1. Limit or avoid both saturated and trans fatty acid types of fat.
There’s no magic number to shoot for here, no “X” grams of trans fatty acids allowed in your daily diet, Moore tells WebMD. Just realize that the more fast food and packaged food you eat, the more trans fats you are getting in your diet.
2. Use nutrition labels to estimate the trans fat content in a product.
Add up the saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. If they are less than the “total fat” number, the remainder is likely trans fat, says Moore.
3. “Reduced Fat” and “Fat-Free” foods will have virtually no trans fat in them at all.
4. Look for the term “Partially Hydrogenated Oil” on the package ingredients list. If partially hydrogenated oil is first on the list – the product may contain trans fat.
Some manufacturers have already changed their recipes and formulas to reduce trans fats to less than 0.5% of fats. The ingredient list may state “partially hydrogenated oil,” but if the packaging says “Contains No Trans Fats,” you can believe it, says Moore.
There’s more good news. “It’s very likely that in the next few months, we’ll be seeing more and more products without “trans fats” as the food industry adjusts to the new consumer awareness, Moore informs us.
Below we have listed the top 10 types of food loaded with trans fats.
1. Spreads. Margarine is a twisted MF, it’s loaded with trans fats and saturated fats, both of which can lead to heart disease. Other non-butter spreads and shortening also contain large amounts of trans fat and saturated fat:
Stick margarine has 2.8 grams of trans fat per tablespoon, and 2.1 grams of saturated fat.
Tub margarine has 0.6 grams of trans fat per tablespoon, and 1.2 grams of saturated fat.
Shortening has 4.2 grams of trans fat per tablespoon, and 3.4 grams of saturated fat.
Butter has 0.3 grams of trans fat per tablespoon, and 7.2 grams of saturated fat.
(Tip: Look for soft-tub margarine, because it is less likely to have trans fat. Some margarine products already say that on the packaging).
2. Packaged foods. Cake mixes, and other pre baking mixes all have several grams of trans fat per serving.
(Tip: DIY baking is about your only option right now, says Moore. Or watch for reduced-fat mixes).
3. Soups. Many noodles and cup soup products contain very high levels of trans fat.
(Tip: Get out the a pot and recipe book. Or try the fat-free and reduced-fat canned soups. Soup in an excellent way to unsure you get all your minerals and vitamins in vegetables and its easy to consume).
4. Fast Food. Bad news here people as you can imagine, fries, chicken, and other foods are deep fried in partially hydrogenated oil. Even if the chains use liquid oil, fries are sometimes partially fried in trans fat before they’re shipped to the restaurant. Pancakes and grilled sandwiches also have some trans fat, from margarine spread on the grill to prevent them sticking.
Fries (a medium order) contain 14.5 grams.
A KFC Original Recipe chicken dinner has 7 grams, mostly from the chicken and bun.
Burger King Dutch Apple Pie has 2 grams.
(Tip: Skip the pie, leave the bun, forget the fries. Diet coke is the only option left on the menu that will suit you Sir!).
5. Frozen Food. Those yummy frozen meals, pot pies, waffles, pizzas, even breaded fish sticks contain trans fat. Even if the label says it’s low-fat, it still has trans fat. Frozen reduced fat Apple Pie has 4 grams trans fat in every slice.
(Tip: In frozen foods, baked is always heart-healthier than breaded. Even vegetable pizzas aren’t flawless, they likely have trans fat in the dough. Pot pies are loaded with too much saturated fat, even if they have no trans fat, so forget about it).
6. Baked Goods. Even worse news, more trans fats are used in commercially baked products than any other foods. Doughnuts contain shortening in the dough and are cooked in trans fat. Cookies and cakes (with shortening-based frostings) from supermarket bakeries have plenty of trans fat. Some higher-quality baked goods use butter instead of margarine, so they contain less trans fat, but more saturated fat.
Donuts have about 5 grams of trans fat apiece, and nearly 5 grams of saturated fat.
Cream-filled cookies have 1.9 grams of trans fat, and 1.2 grams of saturated fat.
Pound cake has 4.3 grams of trans fat per slice, and 3.4 grams of saturated fat.
(Tip: A decent meal replacement bar or a protein drink blended with fruit, fruit juice or even just plain old milk tastes really nice and is very convenient if you are pushed for time).
7. Crisps, Chips and Crackers. Shortening provides crispy texture. Even “reduced fat” brands can still have trans fat. Anything fried (like potato chips and corn chips) or buttery crackers have trans fat. A small bag of potato crisps has 3.2 grams of trans fat.
(Tip: If suffering from a snack attack think pretzels, toast or pita bread. Pita bread with a little “no added sugar” salsa sauce and low-fat cheese tastes pretty good after a few minutes in the toaster or oven).
8. Breakfast food. Breakfast cereal and energy bars are quick-fix, highly processed products that contain trans fats, even those that claim to be “healthy.” For example Kellogg’s Oat Bran Cereal has 1.5 grams per 3/4 cup serving.
(Tip: Whole-wheat toast, bagels, and many cereals don’t have much fat. Cereals with nuts do contain fat, but it’s healthy fat).
9.Chocolate, Cookies and Candy. Look at the labels; some have higher fat content than others. A chocolate bar with nuts or a cookie, is likely to have more trans fat than Jelly Babies.
(Tip: If you must have chocolate, get dark chocolate since it’s been shown to have some redeeming heart-healthy virtues).
10. Sauces, Toppings and Dips. Nondairy creamers, whipped toppings, bean dips, gravy mixes, and salad dressings contain lots of trans fat.
(Tip: Use skim milk or powdered nonfat dry milk in coffee. Keep an eye out for fat-free products of all types. As for salad dressings, choose fat-free there too or opt for old fashioned vinegar, lemon juice, pepper or even Tabasco sauce. Natural oils such as olive oil and MCT oil don’t contain trans fat).
Is it possible to eliminate trans fats entirely your diet? Probably not, even the highly regarded American National Academy of Sciences stated last year that such an applaudable goal is not possible or realistic. Instead spokesperson Cindy Moore suggests, “The goal is to have as little trans fat in your diet as possible. “You’re not going to eliminate trans fats entirely, but you certainly can cut them back dramatically.”
SOURCES: Cindy Moore, MS, RD, director of nutrition therapy at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
Consumer Reports: “Bad fats in common foods.” FDA: “Questions and Answers about Trans Fat Nutrition Labeling.”
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