What are trans fats you may ask? Trans fats are a type of fat found naturally in animal fats but at pretty low concentrations compared to processed foods. In chemistry, you learn about hydrogenation. That’s what these synthetic fats are that are in packaged foods such as chips, cookies, baked goods, and the list goes on and on… Hydrogens are added on to the chemical structure of a type of fat and this causes it to change shape. Big deal, right?! Yep, it is. Think Crisco, margarine, and “vegetable” oils. This hydrogenation makes the fat more stable which gives these processed foods more shelf life. Before this process was used in food manufacturing, you wouldn’t be able to leave your loaf of bread on the counter for more than a few days before it would start to spoil. Hydrogenation can also be partially done in order to prevent foods that are not completely solid from melting at room temperature (again, think margarine). And in the food manufacturing world, it is much cheaper than butter or other good fats such as coconut oil. In restaurants, partially hydrogenated oils are used for frying foods because it is very cheap and it takes much longer to go rancid. Eating out makes it difficult to make healthy choices but if you have some knowledge you can at least make the best choices at the grocery store. Here’s one example when shopping for healthier versions of your favorite foods:
This bag makes a claim of having 0 grams trans fats. But does it? The ingredients list does not say “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” of any of these oils. So, its probably safe but labeling laws can be tricky. Look at the example below:
The front of these containers don’t claim “0 grams trans fats.” And, if you look at the food facts label, it will actually say Trans Fat 0g. But when you look at the ingredients label, it says “partially hydrogenated oils” within all the ingredients. (sorry, can’t see that here).
At first glance, one may think this is great! Plastered on the front of the bag is the label “0 grams Trans Fat.” But you need to go further than that! When you see claims like this, turn the bag over and look for the ingredients label. This is where the real story is told.
The rules for labeling foods are a bit deceiving. A label can say 0 grams tran fats BUT if a product has less than a 1/2 a gram per serving of trans fats it can be labeled as 0 grams. In addition, many manufacturers make the serving size so small so they can use that label! So, again, it comes down to education.
Why Not Trans Fats? Because, in short, they make you sick! They increase LDL (the bad cholesterol), they contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and its also been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, prostate and breast cancer, liver problems, depression and diabetes. That’s some scary stuff!
If you can only make one change for you and your family, make it your mission to remove trans fats from your foods OR at least drastically reduce them. As I mentioned, eating out makes this very difficult, so maybe try to eat at home more or stay away from fried foods when you are at restaurants.