Trans fatty acids or trans fats are formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils to solidify them into margarine or shortening. Hydrogenation is a chemical process that improves the taste and extends the shelf life of food products. Trans fats are commonly found in fried, baked and processed foods such as fries, cookies, crackers, doughnuts and pastries.
Trans fats are a double whammy as they raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels. High intake of this man made fat causes inflammation and clogs the arteries, thus increasing the risk of heart disease. Other potential health problems associated with trans fats are obesity, diabeters, cancer, asthma and decreased immune function.
From 2006, the FDA requires food manufacturers to list trans fats on nutrition labels. Prior to that, there was no requirement so people were not aware of the quantity of trans fats consumed in a food product. Be aware that 0 trans fat does not necessary mean no trans fat. The FDA allows the labeling of 0 gram of trans fat when there is less than half a gram of trans fat per serving. The danger is people tend to eat more than 1 serving and can easily consume too much trans fats at a time.
The FDA provides no maximum safety limit for daily intake of trans fat while the American Heart Association’s recommendation is less than 2 grams per day.
You should look out for trans fat ingredients such as partially or fully hydrogenated oil, margarine or shortening on food label. If you see any of these, there is definitely trans fat in the food product even though the label says 0 gram of trans fat.
As food companies eliminate the use of trans fats, they are also replacing them mainly with refined vegetable oils such as canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, etc. Refined oils are highly processed with heat and chemicals, so they are as bad or worse than trans fat and cause various health problems. If you see vegetable oil as an ingredient on label, it is definitely refined oil (although no trans fat) and you want to avoid the food product.
Here are some tips to reduce or eliminate bad trans fats from your diet:
1. Consume minimally or no processed foods.
2. Choose healthy oils such as coconut oil (for cooking), flaxseed oil and olive oil.
3. Use a good quality butter instead of margarine or other vegetable spreads.