Trans fats are not good for healthy nutrition. However, they are in demand for many and varied quality reasons. For example, they make food look crisp, and more stable, so foods last longer on the shelves and cost less.
However, they are a danger to your heart and are now believed to be a trigger for inflammation and metabolic syndrome. So where are they and how are they avoided? Here are my 13 worst offenders to avoid.
Good news first
Many food manufacturers and fast food chains have eliminated or reduced the trans fat content.
Now the bad news.
These fats are still hidden in many foods. They are industrial trans fatty acids. The more junk food and fried waste you eat, the more you consume. So avoid these and you'll avoid most trans fats, along with plenty of salt, added sugar, and refined starches.
How are trans fats formed?
There are two ways that trans fats are created:
Naturally: they are made up of bacteria that live in the stomach of cattle, sheep, goats and deer. This means that they occur naturally in meats like beef, lamb, goat, and venison, as well as dairy products that come from these animals like milk, cheese, butter, and cream. There is little evidence against this, but it is good to know that they exist.
Industrially: they are formed when fats and oils are hydrogenated or deodorized. During hydrogenation, liquid vegetable oils are hydrogenated (hydrogen is bubbled through in the presence of a catalyst) to transform them into solid and semi-solid fats. This process changes the molecular structure of fatty acids, resulting in a portion, 30 to 60 percent, that changes to the trans form.
Where do you find trans fats?
For centuries, humans have been consuming them in small amounts in butter, milk, beef, and lamb. So eating trans fat is not new. Think of everything from a glass of milk to a drip pot under the sink. The good news is that there is no evidence that natural forms of trans fat are dangerous. However, the manufactured forms of trans fat are a different story.
Back to the 70s.
As early as the 1970s, animal fats such as butter, lard, and beef tallow were accused of contributing to heart disease and cancer, thanks to their saturated fat content. To address this health problem, manufacturers switched to vegetable oils that were perceived as healthy because they contained little saturated fat. However, manufacturers had to find a way to make them solid to help with texture, spreadability, sharpness, and shelf life. If you want fat-free fries or a Danish pastry without butter or bakery fat, you have to solidify the oil somehow! Hydrogenation of fats made this possible.
Most animal fats, like butter, naturally contain about 3 percent of their total fat as trans fat. If you compare this to a commercial hydrogenated shortening used in cooking, you will be alarmed to find that the shortening contains 30% as trans. That's 10 times more than what occurs naturally in animal fats, and that is why health professionals are concerned about trans fats.
My 13 worst foods for trans fats
Manufactured foods that you and I would call “junk foods” are the foods that are most likely to contain high levels of trans fat. So eat less of these (listed below) and you will automatically reduce your intake:
- Lamb or veal drip and tallow
- Popcorn: Popcorn itself is a healthy snack and contains a serving of whole grains to boot. But when you pour the ingredients into the butter, you don't know what you're really adding. Movie popcorn is the worst, as it is covered in solid coconut fat. Only the smell of when you walk into a mall should warn you.
- Mixed Vegetable Oil: It doesn't matter if it's mono or polyunsaturated, this cheap supermarket oil has trans fats produced during the refining and heating stages.
- Solid cooking margarines (butter) eg. Fairy, Frymaster, Crisco
- Salty fried snacks, like potato chips and corn chips
- Cookies, biscuits and biscuits
- Donuts, particularly frozen
- Baked meat products like sausage rolls and meat pies (it's in the bakery)
- Any fried fast food item such as battered fries, wedges, wedges, and nuggets. These foods have been fried in partially hydrogenated oils, unless instructed otherwise (sometimes they advertise that they are cooked in cottonseed oil).
- Frozen foods like spring rolls, shredded chicken, and fish fingers
- Pastries such as Danish pastries, croissants, snails, and apple pies
- Package Cake Mixes
- Non-Dairy Coffee Whiteners: For coffee lovers, non-dairy creamers can become an integral part of your morning. However, over time, they can also add a considerable amount of trans fat to your diet. To determine if your non-dairy creamer contains trans fat, simply check the ingredient list for "partially hydrogenated oils." Nestlé, the market leader in Coffee Mate, now states that it has removed partially hydrogenated oils from the ingredients.
Are trans fats on the label?
Currently, manufacturers must list ONLY total fat and saturated fat, not trans fat. But if a claim is made as "No trans fat" or "No cholesterol", then the amount of trans fat has to appear on the Nutrition Facts panel on the back. Almost all margarines say this.
Companies can round up and put “0 grams” on the Nutrition Panel if their product has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
5 easy steps to avoid trans fats
To reduce your consumption of trans fat, follow these practical tips:
- When possible, use oils like olive and sunflower oils instead of butter and margarine. For example, when baking a cake, look for a recipe that works well with oil instead of solid fats - banana or carrot cake works well.
- Choose a smooth spread over a hard margarine (cooking margarine) or butter. Most products today are made with less than 1 percent trans fat.
- Avoid buying commercial cakes, slices, cookies, muffins, quiches, and cakes. Instead, bake them at home using soft margarine or unsalted butter occasionally.
- Avoid store-bought pastries, including jam. Avoid fried fast foods unless you know a low-trans oil has been used.
- In any case, these takeout foods are not healthy and you should not eat them regularly.