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What Is Trans Fat and How Bad Is It?

what is trans fatI get a lot of questions about fat but “What is trans fat” is definitely one of the most frequent.

Trans fats, also known as “partially hydrogenated oils," are fats formed when food manufacturers add hydrogen atoms to unsaturated fats to make them more solid and shelf-stable. Companies add trans fats to foods because they’re easy to use, inexpensive to produce and help foods last a long time.

But here’s the problem: trans fats are the single worst thing you can eat!

Trans fats increase artery-clogging LDL (“bad") cholesterol and lower your HDL (“good") cholesterol, which is why they raise your chance of developing heart disease more than any other type of fat.

The scary part is, researchers believe there are many more negative health effects of trans fat that aren’t known just yet (including increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and diabetes).

It wasn’t until the 1990’s that trans fats’ adverse health effects started to become widely known among researchers and health care professionals. In 2006 the FDA finally made it a requirement to include trans fat content on the nutrition label, which was a big step toward increasing awareness among consumers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Americans’ blood-levels of trans fats dropped 58 percent from 2000 to 2009, which is great news.

The American Heart Association recommends less than 2 grams of trans fat per day for the average person and there are many organizations, including the American Medical Association, Center for Science in Public Interest (CPSI), and this website, who think this is still too much.

I wholeheartedly think trans fat should be banned by the FDA as an ingredient in foods. Experts at the Harvard School of Public Health agree. They state:

“Eliminating trans fats from the U.S. food supply could prevent up to 1 in 5 heart attacks and related deaths. That would mean a quarter of a million fewer heart attacks and related deaths each year in the United States alone.”

Several cities have begun to ban trans fat and many restaurants and food manufacturers have followed suit, which demonstrates the extent to which trans fat are detrimental to your health.

Here’s how to recognize trans fats in the food you’re eating:

Read the food labels, do research on the restaurants you’re eating at, and learn to avoid these artery-clogging fats at all costs. Here are some tips to help you eliminate trans fat from your diet:

1. Don’t eat any product which has the words “partially hydrogenated oil” or “shortening” in the ingredients list.
2. Even though the food label may say zero trans fats, it may not be accurate. If the words “partially hydrogenated oil” or “shortening” are in the ingredients list, it DOES contain trans fat (this is because of FDA regulations in effect in the United States, which allows companies to declare “0” if trans fat amount per serving is under .5 grams).
3. Be careful when consuming products with labels from outside the United States. Sometimes they contain partially hydrogenated oil but it’s not listed on the label.
4. While eating at restaurants, ask whether they use partially hydrogenated oil for frying or baking or in salad dressings. If they say they use vegetable oil, ask whether it is partially hydrogenated.

Here are some common foods that contain trans fat and foods you can eat instead:

Margarine/Butter
Stick Margarine: 3 grams of trans fat per 1 T
Shortening: 4 grams of trans fat per 1 T
Butter: .5 grams of trans fat per 1 T

Try This Instead: Use olive oil instead of butter and margarine, because it contains heart healthy monounsaturated fat. Or, eat butter from grass-fed cows, which is better for you.


French Fries
Average medium-sized French fry order: 6-8 grams of trans fat

Try This Instead: Baked sweet potato fries: cut up some sweet potatoes, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper and cook for 25-30 minutes at 425 degrees, rotating once halfway through cooking.


Doughnuts
Average medium-sized doughnut: 5 grams of trans fat

Try This Instead: Opt for a whole wheat English muffin with almond butter.


Fast Food
This is an obvious one … although some fast food companies have made strides to eliminate trans fats from their menus, there are many restaurants that still use them, so it’s best to avoid fast food in general.

Try This Instead: Cook your own 95% lean grass fed burger at home with baked sweet potato wedges.


Pot Pie
Most pot pies: 4-5 grams of trans fat

Try This Instead: The crust contains tons of trans fat, so try this healthy pie crust recipe: 1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour, 3/4 tsp. sea salt, 2 T milk, 1/2 cup olive oil (Sift flour and salt. Combine oil and milk. Combine with flour mixture. Shape mold dough around pie pan and bake at 375 for 20 minutes).


Potato Chips
Average small bag of chips: 4 grams of trans fat

Try This Instead: Make your own kale chips by chopping up a head of kale, mixing with 2 T of olive oil and tsp. of salt, and baking at 300 for 20-25 minutes.


*Other foods that often contain trans fat)

Packaged foods: Cake mixes, Bisquick, etc.
Cookies and cakes: Cream-filled cookies and pound cakes
Soups: Ramen noodles and other soups in cups
Dinner rolls and biscuits
Candy bars
Non-dairy creamers and whipped toppings

This article is #7 in my 9-part tutorial called “Healthy Eating 101”.

To go to the next article about how much salt you should eat click here.

To read article #6 about why saturated fat isn’t as bad as you think click here.



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