Eliminating Trans Fat
Health experts are now convinced that trans fat is the most harmful dietary fat and a major contributor to heart disease. Eliminating the remaining trans fats from our diet, it is believed, could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.
If you are health conscious, you know about trans fats. They exist naturally in small amounts in meat and milk, but the primary source in our diet comes from processed foods. Starting with the introduction of Crisco in 1911, artificial trans fats (from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) have been used to improve the flavor, stability and shelf life of deep-fried foods, baked goods, margarine, packaged snacks and crackers.
In the past, the focus was on saturated fats and cholesterol as the prime cardiovascular villains, and they are still considered harmful. However, reliable clinical studies started showing the harmfulness of trans fat–that it increases LDL (bad) cholesterol while decreasing HDL (good) cholesterol, increases inflammation, stiffens arteries and increases the risk of diabetes. It is now believed to be more harmful even than saturated fats and cholesterol.
With evidence against trans fats piling up, the FDA proposed that manufacturers be required to declare on nutrition labels the amount of trans fats in their products. This requirement became fully effective in 2006, but by that time food makers had started eliminating trans fats. Many fast food chains and restaurants switched to other oils for deep frying.
Partially hydrogenated oils are more likely to be found in processed foods such as:
- crackers, cookies, cakes and frozen pies;
- snack foods such as microwave or movie theater popcorn;
- frozen pizza;
- vegetable shortening and stick margarine;
- coffee creamers;
- refrigerated dough products such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls; and
- ready-to-use frostings.
For these products, read the label. For microwave popcorn, for example, the full butter version is typically devoid of trans fat but contains higher amounts of butter, a saturated fat. In such cases, you might want to consider the total of saturated, trans fats and cholesterol. Better yet, pop your own corn so that you know the ingredients.
Tips to Eliminate Trans Fat
Here are some things you can do to help eliminate trans fat from your diet.
READ NUTRITION LABELS
paying attention not only to trans fat but saturated fat and cholesterol. Also check to see if partially hydrogenated oil is included as an ingredient.
Labels today are allowed to report 0 trans fats as long as the amount is less than 0.5 grams per serving. That’s a small amount, but if the serving size listed is also small, you may end up consuming more than you want of trans fat.
USE COOKING OIL
that is either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. And check to see if the restaurants you visit frequently are trans fat free. You may be surprised to learn that McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Jack in the Box and Dairy Queen have all reduced their use of trans fat to near zero without increasing their use of saturated fats.
EAT A BALANCED DIET
that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat or non-fat dairy products, fish, seeds and nuts. That should assure that you get no more than one third of your calories from fat.
AVOID CONVENIENCE FOODS
such as coffee creamer, refrigerated cinnamon rolls in a tube and ready-to-use frosting. There is little convenience in dealing with the after effects of a heart attack or stroke.