These days, probably everyone knows about the evils of trans fats. But do you know that despite public knowledge, people may not be aware they are consuming a good portion of trans fats? What are trans fats exactly? How do they impact our health? And on a practical note, how do we avoid them?
Trans fats (or trans fatty acids, TFA) are formed through an industrial process called hydrogenation, in which hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. So, they are processed fats. TFA are also found in small amounts in various animal products such as beef, pork, lamb, and the butterfat in butter and milk.
How bad are trans fats?
1. Trans fats raise total blood cholesterol levels, particularly LDL (bad) cholesterol.
2. Trans fats lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Higher LDL and lower HDL may increase the risk of heart disease, the leading killer of men and women in the U.S.
3. Trans fats may increase inflammation, a process in which your body responds to injury. It’s known that inflammation plays a key role in the blockage of blood vessels, as well as in the development of cancer.
How do you know if the food contains trans fats?
Be careful about the words printed on the food package or Nutrition Facts Label.
Here’s how you should interpret such words:
“hydrogenated”/”partially hydrogenated” = trans fats
“shortening” = containing trans fats
“Trans Fats: 0 grams” = likely and/or actually containing trans fats
or “Trans Fats: 0 grams” = contains less than 1 gram per serving, meaning if a food package contains several servings, you may end up consuming several grams of trans fats.
What are food sources of trans fats?
Here are some common foods that often contain trans fats :
- Red meats (beef, pork or lamb, esp. as the main dish or processed food)
- Cookies and crackers
- Donuts, muffins
- Microwave popcorn
- White bread
- Fast foods (e.g. fried chicken, biscuits, fried fish sandwiches, French fries, etc)
- Foods at many restaurants
If you eat out a lot, be cautious, as there are no food labels that come with your meal, and many restaurants use trans fats. The lack of regulations for labeling restaurant foods could be profitable for the restaurants, yet hurtful to your health.
You can also check out 10 Surprising Foods That Contain Trans Fats.
Here is the problem:
It is hard to evaluate the trans fats content in food items, thereby making consumption difficult to monitor. For example, do you know what you get from one doughnut at breakfast? More than 3 grams of TFA. How about one large serving of french fries? More than 5 grams of TFA.
Although the FDA requires trans fats to be listed on the nutrition label, there are no labeling regulations for fast foods or restaurant foods. So, foods containing the unhealthy fats can even be advertised as “cholesterol-free” and “cooked in vegetable oil.” Plus it’s easy to be fooled, because food labels can read, “Trans Fats: 0 grams” when actually those foods contain trans fats. Needless to say, many folks are misled by marketing tricks or advertisements that often disguise lies under a thin veneer of facts.
Only you can say “NO” to trans fats, which is the most effective one.
In addition, limit trans fats intake to less than 1 percent of your total calories per day, as the American Heart Association recommends. This means if you need 2,000 calories a day, you should consume less than 2 grams of trans fats (i.e. less than 20 calories trans fats).
Photo Credit: by Mykl Roventine