Trans fats are reappearing in the news again as they were a few years ago. This is largely due to the fact that the FDA is proposing to rescind the idea that trans fats are generally recognized as safe (or GRAS as you may have seen it before), in turn inhibiting food manufacturers from using trans fat in their products.
You may be asking yourself… What are trans fats? Are they really that bad for me? Where do you find trans fats?
What are Trans Fats?
Trans fats are a type of fat that can be mainly found in foods made with partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats can be found naturally in animal foods, but are most often artificially created. This process is called hydrogenation, which entails taking liquid fat and making it solid so it is more shelf-stable. Research has shown that consumption of trans fat (as well as other types of unhealthy fats) can raise LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) and can decrease HDL (“good” cholesterol), therefore greatly contributing to heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of Americans, and many risks factors that contribute to this disease are modifiable, including diet.
Where are Trans Fats Found?
Artificial trans fats can be found in a wide array of foods such as jarred frosting, margarine, shortening, pre-mixed products like cookie and cake mixes, pie crust, and some microwave popcorns. Looking at the Nutrition Facts label can help you to identify whether or not a food contains trans fat. Most foods will have the trans fat amount listed on the Nutrition Facts label but some do not. This is where ingredient reading helps. If a product has the ingredients “partially hydrogenated” oils, that means there is trans fat. The goal is to consume no trans fat at all.
Label reading is beneficial not just for watching trans fat. Reading labels helps you to know what other ingredients and amounts of nutrients are in the foods you are consuming. Please remember that just because something says “trans fat free” does NOT necessarily mean it is healthy or low in other types of unhealthy fats.
When choosing foods, limit processed foods and aim for fresh and homemade items. Choose fruits and vegetables, lean proteins (i.e. chicken, fish, lean beef), low-fat or fat-free dairy, and whole grains. If you have further questions about trans fats or anything related to your diet or health, consider setting yourself up with an appointment with our outpatient registered dietitians! In the meantime, we will keep you posted about the possible ban on trans fats.