Avoid the Trans Fat Trap

Despite its bad reputation and removal by many food companies trans fat isn’t going away. A new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest found high amounts of this unhealthy fat in numerous supermarket samples, from 4-5 grams per serving in microwave popcorn to a whopping 9 grams in one brand of doughnuts.

With all the media attention on sugar and salt some consumers have forgotten about trans fat, and others mistakenly believe that it has been banned. The truth is it’s still out there, and avoiding it is important for both weight control and optimal health.

Also known as partially hydrogenated oil, man-made trans fat is created when liquid oils are made into solids, which are used to hold products like pie crust and crackers together and extend their shelf lives. Numerous studies have linked trans fat to heart disease, infertility, cancer, type 2 diabetes, liver problems, and obesity. A weight-control study in animals found that even with the exact same number of calories and identical amounts of fat, animals fed trans fat gained four times more weight and 30 percent more belly fat.

Based on the evidence, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that the optimum goal for trans fat intake is as close to zero as possible, but avoiding it can be tricky. Technically, a product can claim to provide zero grams of trans fat if it contains less than 0.5 grams per serving. That means if it contains .4 grams and you eat 10 servings, you actually took in 4 grams, not 0.

The only way to really tell if a product contains trans fat is to check the ingredient list. If the words “partially hydrogenated” appear, bingo—there’s trans fat in the product. Another trick some companies are using is substituting partially hydrogenated oil with interesterified oil, also known as fully hydrogenated oil. While this replacement is technically trans fat free there is some indication that it may be worse for your health. A Brandeis University study found that subjects who consumed products made with interesterified oil experienced a drop in their “good” HDL cholesterol a significant rise in blood sugar—about 20 percent, in just four weeks. 

To avoid both partially and fully hydrogenated oils eat more fresh foods. For example:

Rather than buying microwave popcorn pop your own on the stovetop using organic popcorn kernels and sunflower oil. 

Instead of pie whip up a mock cobbler made from baked or grilled fruit topped with a combination of toasted whole oats dusted with cinnamon and crushed or slivered almonds.

In place of buttery spreads drizzle garlic infused extra virgin olive oil on a plate seasoned with salt-free Italian herbs as a dip for whole grain bread.

And when you do buy something that comes in a package always, always read the ingredient list regardless of what the label says.

How have you cut back on packaged foods? Please share your tips or tweet them to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.

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