Monday, August 30, 2010

Trans Fat... Why it's bad and how to avoid it.

One thing that I hate about grocery shopping is the plethora of foods containing trans fat. There is no need for trans fat. It makes production more efficient and foods cheaper. That's it.

But let me back up a bit. Let's have a little trans fat 101, shall we?

What is trans fat?

There are small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats in beef and dairy. Those aren't the ones we're concerned with and are thought to be less harmful than the artificially produced fats.

Artificial trans fat results from adding hydrogen to oil, also called hydrogenation. This transforms the liquid fat into a solid one, making foods prepared with it less perishable than their trans fat free counter parts. I won't go into the science of the fat, but it's naughty. Trust me.

Why is trans fat bad?

We all know about saturated fats (most fats that are solid at room temperature are saturated fats). Saturated fats raise your LDL, "bad" cholesterol (the artery clogging stuff), but have no effect on your HDL, "good" cholesterol (helps to clean out arteries). It's bad.

Then there's trans fat. Trans fat not only raises your LDL cholesterol, it also lowers your HDL cholesterol. It's a double-whammy artery blocker.

The combination of high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol greatly increases your risk of heart disease, the US's leading killer of men and women.

Trans fat also increases triglycerides (contributes to hardening of arteries), increases Lp(a) lipoprotein (type of LDL cholesterol), and causes increased inflammation because of damage to the cells lining the blood vessels.

How much trans fat is safe?

Because of the small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats, the amount of consumption considered safe is already met in the typical 2000-calorie diet. Therefore, the FDA and the American Heart Association suggest avoiding any additional consumption.

What foods have trans fat?

Margarine, shortening, and butter

Packaged foods.
Cake mixes, canned frosting, Bisquick

Ramen noodles and soup cups

Fast food.
(here's a sampling of some of my personal favorites)
McDonalds Quarter Pounder with Cheese - 1.5 g trans fat, 12 g sat fat
Burger King Whopper with Cheese - 1.5 g trans fat, 16 g sat fat
Arby's medium Beef and Cheddar - 1 g trans fat, 8 g sat fat
Taco Bell Nachos Bell Grande - 0.5 g trans fat, 7 g sat fat
And Hardee's doesn't even list trans fat content, which scares me.

Frozen food.
Pizza, waffles, pies, breaded items (fish sticks)

Commercial baked goods.
Chips and crackers.

Almost everything Pillsbury makes.
Seriously, the stuff tastes great and is a time saver, but it's loaded in trans fat. Especially their ready-to-bake items.

What can we do to avoid trans fat?

Read the back of a package instead of the front.
Many manufacturers advertise that their food is trans fat free, when it's not. How can they get away with this? In the US, if a food contains less than 0.5 grams per serving, they can list it as containing 0 grams. Manufacturers will then play around with their serving size to get the magic zero. But how many of you only eat 6 crackers? Or 1/2 cup of ice cream?

So what are you to do?
Browse the ingredients. Look for "partially hydrogenated" oil. This is trans fat. If you find a food containing this, give it a "tiss, tiss," shake your finger, and put it back.

Lastly, to avoid trans fat, MAKE YOUR OWN FOOD. I promise it's not all that hard to put a pancake mix together. In fact...

Easy Pancakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil

1. In large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in milk, egg, and oil. Mix until smooth.
2. Cook on griddle or frying pan.
3. Smile because you just make trans fat free pancakes.

By this time next week, I better be holding my newborn baby girl in my arms. If you don't hear from me, smile and know that my wish came true.


  1. Holy Moly! I considered myself a pretty healthy eater, I try to avoid prepackaged stuff as much as possible. But wow. I had no idea trans fat was in as much food as it is. Thanks for the eye opener! And the refresher science lesson, its good to be reminded why certain things are so bad. I'm even more committed to the 'no prepackaged foods' bandwagon now.

    ps: I'm still waiting for my baby girl too! That due date just came and went... she's got different plans. Hopefully we'll both have our sweet newborns soon!

  2. There you go again...trying to make me cook my own food. But those Pillsbury Ready-to-Bake cookies...oh so good!

    Also, praying for safe deliveries for you and Lindsey both!

  3. You are so smart! I love you, Mom