The Sneak Attack of Trans- Fats

If you are like most people, you are probably confused about trans fats. What are they? Which foods have them? What is the health risk?

The truth is, trans fats are everywhere. They are lurking on the shelves in almost every aisle of our grocery stores. Just when you think that bag of microwave popcorn was a healthy choice for a snack... it might not be. Not because of the popcorn itself but because of what has been added to it.

So what are they? Trans fats are the result of a process called hydrogenation where they take relatively healthy oil and turn it into a solid form to help prolong the shelf life and freshness of the product. When these fats become solid, our bodies treat them more like saturated fats. Evidence shows that consumption of both saturated fat and trans fat can increase our LDL ("bad") cholesterol that increases the risk of coronary artery disease. There is also some evidence to support that trans fats may actually decrease our HDL ("good") cholesterol. Nearly 13 million Americans suffer from coronary artery disease and more than 500,000 die each year from causes related to coronary artery disease. Heart Disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

Unfortunately, trans fats have been a "hidden" fat for years. They are very popular in fast food chains because they are inexpensive to produce, easy to use, and they don't spatter. The reality is? it is in everything from crackers to breads to cereals and therefore, people who thought they were making good food choices may have been adding more fat to their diet than they anticipated.

Here are some samples of the surprise attack of trans fats:

1. Spreads. Margarine and shortening are loaded with trans fats. Stick margarine has 2.8 grams of trans fat per tablespoon Shortening has 4.2 grams of trans fat per tablespoon Tip: look for soft tub margarines that say "no trans fats" on the container

2. Soups. Ramen noodles and soup cups contain very high levels of trans fats

3. Cereals. Many cereals that would other wise be healthy choices contain the "hidden fats"

4. Crackers and popcorn

5. Many popular pancake and waffle mixes

The good news

Under new FDA regulations, by January 1, 2006, consumers will be able to find trans fat listed on nutrition labels under the line for saturated fat. You won't see a percent daily value because trans fats are not a natural food and we do not need them in our diet for any reason. The more you can limit your trans fat intake, the better. Manufacturers will start phasing in the new labels before that deadline.

More good news is that public awareness of trans fats has already initiated some companies to change their ways. Frito Lay has said that they will remove trans fats from Doritos, Cheetos, and Tostitos. McDonalds has reported that they will remove ½ of the trans fats from their French fries. These foods will still fall into the "once in a while" category but removing trans fats will definitely help.

Until the new labels are available, the best way to know if your favorite foods have trans fats is to read the ingredients list. If you see the terms "Hydrogenated or Partially Hydrogenated oil" then it contains trans fats. You can also bet that any commercial baked goods including cakes, pies, and donuts will also be loaded with the "hidden fat".

Awareness is your best defense in limiting trans fats from your diet. Read your labels and make your choices wisely.

© Meri Raffetto RD, 2004

About the Author

Owner of Real Living Nutrition Services, Meri Raffetto is a Registered Dietitian and a recognized professional in the area of nutrition and wellness. She has received a bachelor's degree in both nutrition and psychology and has extensive experience in nutrition counseling and medical nutrition therapy. She offers individual nutrition counseling and has developed one of the only non-diet weight management programs available on the internet. For more information or to sign up for Real Living's free nutrition newsletter, visit http://www.reallivingnutrition.com.

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