Sometimes people ask me what foods I do not eat. Well, I like to think of myself as a “realist” (student) dietitian. I truly do believe in moderation. Perhaps you could tell that by this post, or this post. But it’s true. I too love my doughnuts, cakes, cookies, and of course, Reese’s peanut butter cups (especially the holiday versions because they have more peanut butter than the regular cup…I digressed, but you knew it was going there, right?). Although I do eat pretty much everything, and strive to keep it in moderation, there is one thing that I commonly refuse to eat. Foods with trans-fats. What are trans-fats and why don’t I eat them? Here’s why…
If you look up “trans fat” on Google, Wikipedia is the first hit. Wikipedia begins to describe it as: “Trans fat is the common name for unsaturated fat with trans-isomer (E-isomer) fatty acid(s). Because the term describes the configuration of a double carbon–carbon bond, trans fats are sometimes monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, but never saturated.” Trans-isomer and double carbon-carbon bond? What? Don’t worry, that’s what they teach us in dietetics school.
Here’s the jist…
Trans-fats naturally occur in small amounts in animal foods, however, most of the trans-fats in our food supply are introduced to food products through a process called hydrogenation. Simply put, this process adds hydrogen to liquid fat (oil) and turns that fat into a solid substance. Why would we put oils through this process? Good question. Hydrogenating oils does three main things:
- Increases shelf life
- Enhances flavors
- Impacts texture
Although these characteristics seem like positive changes, especially to our taste buds, the addition of trans-fats has detrimental effects on our health, even in small amounts. Adversely, within the body, trans-fats :
- Increases LDL, or “bad” cholesterol levels
- Decreases HDL, or “good” cholesterol levels
- Increases risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer
Trans-fats commonly exist in products such as: cookies, crackers, frostings, margarine, vegetable shortening, pre-mixed cake mixes, fried foods, snack foods, and more. You can reduce your intake of trans-fats by limiting your consumption of these foods and by checking the food label. Foods that contain trans-fats will include “partially-hydrogenated oils” in the ingredient list. Although food labels must now disclose the amount of trans-fats in the product, be cautious. The FDA allows any product with less than 0.5 grams per serving to make the claim “0g Trans-Fats”.
Although 0.5 grams of trans-fats per servings sounds miniscule, beware. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your total daily consumption of trans-fats to 1% of total calories per day (i.e. 2,000 calorie diet = 2 g trans-fats per day), or as little as possible. If you are consuming foods with trans-fats, even if it has 0.5 grams per serving, your consumption can add up quickly! Take this nutrition label from our Girl Scout Thin Mints:
It claims 0 grams of trans-fat per serving, yet it still contains “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.” This is where it can really add up.
So what is the take away message?
- Read food labels
- Avoid foods containing “partially hydrogenated oils”
- Limit your consumption of trans-fats for heart health
- No more than 1% of daily calories