Trans fats are often a confusing term. Health professionals recommend we limit the amount of trans fats in our diet. Why are trans fats not good for us? According to the Center for Disease Control, consuming trans fats increases the low-density lipoprotein, or the “bad “cholesterol. This may increase your risk for coronary heart disease and death. Trans fats may also decrease the high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol.
Many of us rely on the food label to tell us the amount of trans fats in a food item. So we feel good when we choose an item with zero trans fats. That’s great, but we should also ask ourselves, “Are there really no trans fats in the food item if it states zero?” The answer is no.
Manufactures are able to use trans fats as an ingredient in the food item and list it on the food label as zero if one serving of the food item has less than 0.5 gram of trans fats. Because products containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving can be labeled as having 0 grams trans-fats, checking the ingredient list is important to avoid all artificial tans fats. It is also important to also consider how much of the food item and how often you eat that food.
There are two main sources of trans fats. The first source is those found in nature, such as fatty parts of meat and fat found naturally in dairy. The second source is food manufacturers that use artificial trans fats. Manufacturers use trans fats to increase the shelf life of food, give better stability to ingredients, such as icings not liquefying, and to improve texture. Foods that may contain artificial trans fats are microwave popcorn, frozen pizzas, baked goods, coffee creamers and margarines.
To ensure you don’t overdose on trans fats, check the label and the ingredient list. If you see partially hydrogenated oil or shortening as an ingredient, there are trans fats in that product in some amount.
It’s important to check foods eaten outside the home, as well. Fast food restaurants, coffee shops, movie theaters and bakeries all sell prepared foods that may contain trans fats. Ask questions or ask for an ingredient listing if you frequent any of those places often.
The CDC estimates avoiding artificial trans fats could prevent 10,000-20,000 heart attacks and 3,000-7,000 coronary heart disease deaths each year in the U.S. Be an educated consumer; read the food label and the ingredient list. Ask questions about food and drink eaten outside your home.
Here are ideas to reduce your trans fats. Pop popcorn in an air popper and flavor with low fat parmesan cheese. Ask for skim milk instead of creamer in your coffee drinks. Make cookies for school lunches and dessert instead of buying commercially-made products. Here is a great recipe to make for the first day back to school lunch or snack.
2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
3/4 cup canola oil
1 egg, beaten
1 cup mashed banana
1 3/4 cups quick cooking oatmeal
1 cup raisins (optional)
Mix flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Mix in canola oil until finely crumbled. Stir together egg, banana, oatmeal and raisins. Add all at once into flour mixture. Beat well. Drop dough from a teaspoon onto a non-fat sprayed cooking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 12 minutes or until browned.
Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.