Understanding Trans Fats
Trans fats seemed like such a good thing once, enhancing the flavor, texture, and shelf life of many processed foods -- from cookies to frozen pizza. Unfortunately, they come with a health risk. Trans fatty foods tantalize your taste buds, then travel through your digestive system to your arteries, where they turn to sludge.
Small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in beef, lamb, and full-fat dairy products. But most come from processing liquid vegetable oil to become a solid fat.
As of 2006, food manufacturers have been required by the FDA to list trans fats on food labels. As a result, health-conscious shopping became easier. But there's more to it than buying products that boast "0 Trans Fats!"
WebMD gives you the facts you need to make healthy dietary choices.
Recommended Limits of Trans Fats
Like saturated fats, trans fats raise LDL "bad" cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. But unlike saturated fats, trans fats lower HDL "good" cholesterol and may do more damage. The American Heart Association advises limiting saturated fat consumption to less than 7% of daily calories and trans fat consumption to less than 1%. Given that a gram of fat has 9 calories, the following are the recommended trans fat limits based on calorie intake:
Total calories 1% of total calories = Trans fat limit
2,000 20 About 2 grams
1,500 15 About 1.5 grams
1,200 12 Slightly more than 1 gram
Trans Fats and Foods to Watch Out For
The FDA label ruling and consumer awareness of the dangers of trans fats have led many food manufacturers to reformulate products to reduce or eliminate trans fats. Today you can buy cookies and soft-spread margarine with zero trans fats. But trans fats still exist in some products. Carefully read nutrition labels and chose brands that don't use trans fats and are low in saturated fat in these products:
- Cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pie crusts, pizza dough, and breads such as hamburger buns
- Some stick margarine and vegetable shortening
- Pre-mixed cake mixes, pancake mixes, and chocolate drink mixes
- Fried foods, including donuts, French fries, chicken nuggets, and hard taco shells
- Snack foods, including chips, candy, and packaged or microwave popcorn
- Frozen dinners
The Meaning of Zero Trans Fat
Reach for the product whose label shouts "0 Trans Fats!" and what do you get? Maybe some trans fats. That's because the FDA allows that label on anything with 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
As a result, keep in mind this advice:
1. Even if you're a conscientious shopper, it's easy to ingest a significant amount of trans fats without knowing it. A bowl of "trans-fat-free" cereal (that actually contains half a gram) plus a slice of birthday cake at the office and some microwave popcorn in the evening add up quickly.