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Kathleen Zelman: Trans Fats -- Just How Bad Are They?

Get the trans fat facts

More About Trans Fats

Member question: What about butter?

Zelman: As a comparison, butter has 7 grams of saturated fat and .3 grams of trans fat per tablespoon. Tub margarine has 1.2 grams of saturated fat and .6 grams of trans fats per tablespoon. So tub margarine is lower in total fat than butter, even though it's a tiny bit higher in trans fats.

One of the important messages to understand is to think of trans fats like you think of saturated fats, because they both work similarly in the body. What differentiates an animal saturated fat, such as butter, is that it not only is saturated, it also contains cholesterol. No vegetable product contains cholesterol, only animal products.

Member question: I don't use much, but is it better to use regular butter or tub margarine? I really don't want the trans fats. Are the "butter flavor" sprays OK to use?

Zelman: It's a personal preference. If you prefer to use less butter than tub margarine, that's fine. Likewise, using spray products, either vegetable-based or butter-based, helps limit the amount of fat used in cooking. Whenever possible, it is always a good idea to use vegetable oil instead of a solid margarine or butter.

Member comment: But a piece of toast wouldn't taste right with vegetable oil!

Zelman: True. That's why you can't substitute it at all times.

Member question: Trans fats are still present in fat-free non-dairy creamer when partially hydrogenated oil is one of the ingredients, right? Considering a choice between that and regular half-and-half, which is worse to drink for one cup of coffee a day?

Zelman: Obviously the grams of fat in half-and-half are going to be much greater than that small amount found in the fat-free half-and-half. The bottom line remains that the total amount of fat is always the most important factor. Whenever choosing between two such products, always choose the one with the least amount of fat.

Member question: My question was actually comparing non-dairy fat-free to half-and-half (not half-and-half with fat-free half-and-half). Are trans fats so bad that a small amount of trans fat is worse than a larger amount of regular fat?

Zelman: Actually, the best option is to use skim milk. The reality is, most people don't want skim milk in their coffee, although you might want to try strong coffee with warm skim milk, it's delicious. But regarding your question, choose the lowest-fat option that you prefer.

Moderator: Meaning even the lower-fat version with trans fats is better.

Member question: Trans fats are completely man-made, then? So they are only going to be in processed foods. Is that right?

Zelman: No, that's incorrect. Animal products have small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats that act differently than man-made trans fatty acids. The correlation between trans fats and heart disease is related specifically to the trans fats from vegetable oils. The labeling law will exclude those small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats. They "act differently," which means they're not linked to heart disease

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