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Be A Trans-Fat Detective

Get to the bottom of how much of the hidden, harmful fats lurk in your food

Be A Trans-Fat Detective

These common foods most likely contain trans fats:

  • Most margarines and shortenings;
  • Frying fats in processed foods;
  • Deep-fried fast food, like french fries;
  • And any of food that list "partially hydrogenated oils" in the ingredients, such as: crackers, cake mixes, snack cakes, snack foods, chips, doughnuts, pie crusts, biscuits, breakfast cereals, frozen waffles, microwave popcorn, packaged cookies, and other baked and fried items.

The Daily Dose of Trans Fats

How much trans fats do Americans eat on a daily basis? Good question. It's almost impossible to answer accurately because manufacturers are not yet required to list amounts of trans fats on food labels. And when a product does use the harmful fat, there's no standard amount of how much is in there.

Use The Clues

Until labels give us trans fat information, be sure to check the ingredient list for the words "partially hydrogenated oil" or "shortening." If they are in the first three ingredients for a particular food product, and the food product contains quite a bit of total fat, chances are there is a fair amount of trans fats in that food.

Pay special attention to margarines that list the grams of monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat along with the total grams of fat and grams of saturated fat. With this info, you can actually figure out the grams of trans fatty acids by doing a little math:

  • Step 1 -- Add up the grams of saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat.
  • Step 2 -- If the number from step 1 is less than the total amount of fat on the label, you can assume the missing grams are trans fats.

More Reasons to Avoid Trans Fats

Trans fats may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes in women. In a 2001 study, researchers found that when women replaced 2% of the trans fats they ate with polyunsaturated fat, they dropped their risk of diabetes by 40%.

But for women, the risks don't end there. Trans fats may increase their risk of colon cancer, too. Researchers suspect that trans fatty acids are carcinogenic, but they need more proof to be sure. They do know from a recent study that high levels of dietary trans fats doubled the risk of colon cancer in menopausal women not on hormone replacement therapy.

Trans fats also have been implicated in developing breast cancer. A Dutch study suggests an association between the amount of trans fat stored in the body and the risks of the disease in women after menopause.

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Reviewed on September 18, 2003

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