The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week that trans fats will slowly be eliminated from the American diet.
Trans fats are responsible for heart disease, the leading killer of men and women in the United States.
Today, trans fats are no longer “generally recognized as safe (GRAS),” according to the FDA, which means they can’t be used without approval from the agency first. That will most likely be difficult to get, which means the FDA is more or less banning this deadly fat from American food supply.
Trans fat is double trouble
Nutritionists have battled trans fats for years. That’s because they’re far worse for your heart than saturated fats found in butter, cream, and red meat!
Both saturated fats and trans fats raise your “bad” LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol, when elevated, builds up in the walls of your arteries, and overtime can block the flow of blood to your heart or brain resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
The difference is that, unlike other fats, trans fats also lower your “good” HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol protects the heart because it acts like a sweeper and cleans up excess cholesterol from your arteries.
Because they contribute to both a high LDL level and a low HDL level, trans fats increase your risk of heart disease more than any other fat out there.
Where is it found?
Partially hydrogenated oils, another term for trans fats, is a mainstay in restaurants and the fast food industry and is used for frying foods. They’re more stable than other types of fat, withstand repeated use, and are easier to transport; but they also risk the heart of the consumer.
You can also find trans fat in a number of processed foods. These foods generally contain trans fats:
• Packaged salty snacks (microwave popcorn, chips, crackers)
• Ready to eat foods (noodles, pizza, French fries, taco shells, noodles)
• Commercially baked goods (donuts, cakes, pies, muffins, cookies)
• Packaged sweet snacks (cookies, granola bars, puddings)
Make sure of it's trans fat content by reading the food label first. If it’s not mentioned in the label then read the ingredient list on packaged food and look for the words “hydrogentated” or “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oil and the word shortening. Those are other terms for trans fat.
How much trans fat can I eat?
The answer is close to zero because trans fat isn’t needed for a healthy diet.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA) the recommendation is that you have no more than one percent of your total daily calories as trans fat. This means that if you’re following the average diet of 1,500 calories a day, it works out to a mere one and half grams of trans fat.
So, how do you know how much trans fat food contains? Look at the number of grams in the Nutrition Facts label and choose products with the lowest amount. Also, look for the words “trans fat free” to avoid it all together.
Reducing the amount of trans fat you eat
Since trans fats are still widely available in our food supply, and since no regulations have been implemented to limit them, it means we must take our own measures to eat as little trans fast as possible.
Begin by focusing more on natural food instead of processed foods as they don’t contain any trans fats. Since trans fats are produced upon deep frying, choose grilled, steamed, boiled or baked food instead.
Whenever you can, cook at home. Bake your own cakes, muffins and pancakes instead of buying ready-made ones. Bake and cook with healthy oil such as olive oil or canola oil instead of hard stick margarine or butter. Avoid coconut and palm oil.
You can also go online before heading to a restaurant to check the fat and trans fat content of your favorite menu items.
Racha Adib is a Beirut-based licensed dietitian who offers nutrition and wellness counseling to individuals and corporations. She graduated from the American University of Beirut with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics followed by a certificate in Essentials of Business. She is a member of the Lebanese Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics and the Lebanese League for Women in Business. She has also been frequently featured in media on MTV's “The Doctors,” LBC's “Mission Fashion,” and Orbit's “Ayoun Beirut” among others, and hosts a weekly radio program on the latest nutrition news and science breakthroughs. She can be found on Twitter: @rachaadib