Last week the FDA changed its stance on trans-fats and hydrogenated oils, they are no longer “generally considered as safe.” This may have an impact on many processed foods and restaurants still using hydrogenated oils to prepare food.
Trans-fats are essentially trans fatty acids. These are created during the hydrogenation process; when hydrogen is added to unsaturated vegetable oils. This process turns the oil into solid or semi-solid fats. This is done for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is for use in baking as vegetable shortening and margarine. It increases the shelf life of processed food products, is cheaper and does not require refrigeration. Trans fats, however, are a health hazard. These once healthy vegetable oils are chemically altered into a very unhealthy hydrogenated trans-fat. Trans-fats increase the “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease the “good” HDL cholesterol.
The American Heart Association suggests that the consumption of trans fats should be limited to one percent of total daily caloric intake. Considering there are naturally occurring trans-fats in meat and dairy products, there is little room in the AHA’s recommendations for processed food sources of trans- fats in the American diet.
For consumers looking to avoid these unhealthy saturated fats, it is essential to read product labels. Knowledge is key. Currently these are the top ten food sources of trans-fats:
Fried foods—although some fast food restaurants have switched to non-hydrogenated oils, there are still some that use it to prepare some favorite items such as: Donuts, French fries, fried chicken and fish.
Frozen pies, pizzas and dinners—these may be convenient, but are loaded with trans-fats.
Margarine—once thought to be a healthy alternative to butter, margarine now has a bad reputation due to its saturated fat content which is contributed to the hydrogenated oils that give margarine its solid form.
Vegetable shortening—the easiest way to make food unhealthy is to add vegetable shortening. It is chemically altered vegetable oil.
Canned soup—consumers may be surprised to learn that a number of soups have trans-fats. Campbell’s soups are one that consumers should check the labels carefully.
Microwave popcorn—there are a number of brands that still contain trans-fats for that buttery flavor.
Twinkies, packaged cookies and snacks—Twinkies, so popular and so unhealthy. So many consumers were happy to see the return of the Twinkie, but there is a reason it has a shelf life of 25 days. Its creamy center is basically a chemical mess of sugar and partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening. Packaged cookies and snacks usually contain partially hydrogenated oils.
Coffee creamer—Surprising to some, but coffee creamer does contain some dairy product so consumers need to check labels to see which creamers have eliminated the trans-fats.
Ice cream and dairy products—Dairy products are a natural source of trans-fats. Although it is a natural source, consumers still need to be aware of their intake.
Meat (Beef and Lamb) —Beef and Lamb products are a natural source of trans-fats that should be considered when cutting down on intake of these fats.
The FDA allows any product containing 0.5 grams or less of trans-fats to declare on the label that it has zero trans-fats. The FDA is making changes but this may take some time. For now, reading product labels is consumers’ best choice to avoid excessive amounts of trans-fats.