Trans fat has become a buzzword in the US. You’ve probably heard over and over that this type of fat is bad for you. But what is it — and why should it be avoided?
Trans Fats exist naturally in small amounts in some meat and dairy products. However, they’re also artificially added to many foods as partially hydrogenated oil, because it spoils more slowly than similar products. While doctors and scientists are not sure exactly how bad naturally occurring trans fats are for you, they do know that artificial trans fats can lead to high cholesterol and a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and even diabetes.
Why You Should Avoid Trans Fats
Consuming trans fats, especially those from hydrogenated oils, increases your LDL cholesterol. This is the "bad" type of cholesterol that clogs and hardens your arteries, leading to a higher risk of blood clotting, heart attack, or stroke.
As there is no real nutritional benefit to including hydrogenated oil in your diet, doctors recommend reducing your intake of trans fats as much as possible. In fact, the FDA banned products containing partially hydrogenated oils in the US, as they are one of the most common sources of trans fat.
However, some of these products may still be on the market until 2021: the FDA is allowing companies to sell products that businesses produced before the ban took place. Additionally, if a product has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat, food companies can market it as having 0 grams of trans fats, so it's still important to be aware of foods that may contain it.
Foods With Trans Fat
- Fried Foods
Fried foods — like french fries, mozzarella sticks, and fish sticks — may have trans fat, depending on what type of oil they have been cooked in. You should enjoy them in moderation, if at all.
Margarine is sometimes marketed as a healthier alternative to butter, but some kinds of margarine actually contain up to two grams of trans fat per tablespoon. However, there are more and more options on the market that use natural alternatives to make the product trans-fat-free.
- Non-Dairy Coffee Creamer
It's possible that your daily dose of caffeine has also been giving you a daily dose of trans fats. Many non-dairy coffee creamers use oils that contain trans fats. Make sure to look at the list of ingredients to find out what type of oil it contains.
- Meat & Dairy
Trans fat occurs naturally in meat and dairy products. However, scientists need to do more research on these naturally occurring trans fats enough to know if they’re as harmful as artificial ones. Many believe it is still a good idea to cut down on possible intake by eating lean meats and low-fat dairy products.
- Naturally Occurring Oils
Instead of eating products with artificial oils, try natural ones like olive oil, corn oil, or canola oil to avoid trans fat.
- Plant-Based Meat Alternatives
Eating a few vegetarian meals per week can help you avoid trans fats. These days, meat alternatives are much more than just tofu. Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are working to make plant-based meats taste just like the real thing.
- Plant-Based Dairy Alternatives
Instead of traditional non-dairy coffee creamer for your morning cup of joe, try some oat milk or almond milk creamer. These options have zero trans fats and some brands have formulated special "barista" products centered around making your coffee amazing.
- Foods with Monounsaturated Fat and Omega 3 Fatty Acids
When you replace trans-fat foods, make sure you don't end up eating too many saturated fats: they’re not as bad for you as trans fats, but should still be consumed in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends that saturated fats make up no more than 6% of your calorie intake.
Most of your fats should come from monounsaturated fats, which actually help to reduce LDL cholesterol levels. These are mainly found in olive and peanut oils. Other healthy fat options include omega 3 fatty acids, which you can find in fish and nuts.