Off-Limit Fat

There’s good fat and then there’s bad fat. Trans fat, however, is the worst.

Not long ago, all dietary fat was considered the enemy as fat was thought to be the cause of weight gain. Thankfully, we now know that certain types of fat are an essential part of a healthy diet. Unsaturated fats such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are good for your heart and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. In large amounts, though, saturated fats are bad for your heart. But it’s trans fat that does the most damage to your heart and should be completely avoided.

It took years to get to this point, but food regulation authorities have recognized the dangers of trans fat and are requiring it to be removed from food products in the very near future. So what is trans fat, how does it affect your health, and where is it hiding?

Partially Hydrogenated Oils

There’s naturally occurring trans fat and artificial trans fat. Dairy, lamb, and meat contain trace amounts of trans fat that can’t be avoided, regardless of how you prepare your meal. Food manufacturers make artificial trans fat by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oil. Called “partially hydrogenated oil” (PHO), trans fat is solid at room temperature.

Food manufacturers use trans fat because it is cheap, prolongs shelf life, and improves the taste of foods. Fast food restaurants like using trans fat to deep-fry their foods because it can be used over and over again without going bad.

Harms Your Heart

Compared to other types of fat, trans fat contains no nutritional value and is especially harmful to the health of your cardiovascular system. A diet high in trans fat raises your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol. High cholesterol puts you at risk for stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease (the leading cause of death in the United States), so avoiding

Food Sources

Many foods still contain small amounts of trans fat. You likely have some of these foods in your pantry or refrigerator: baked goods such as cakes, cookies, and crackers, ready-made frostings, chips, microwave popcorn, fried foods such as doughnuts, French fries, and fried chicken, nondairy coffee creamer, vegetable shortening, stick margarine, and refrigerated dough used to make cinnamon rolls, pizza crust, or biscuits. If you find them in your house, do yourself a favor and toss it.

How to Avoid

It’s hard to completely avoid all trans fat if you eat processed foods. That said, you can start by looking at nutrition labels. The label may say zero grams of trans fat, but the food may still contain up to a half a gram per serving, and the fat can add up if you eat more than one serving. A better way to tell if a food contains trans fat is to read the ingredient label. If you see “partially hydrogenated oil,” then it’s made with some amount of trans fat.

To leave trans fat out of your buggy, be picky about the type of processed snack foods you buy. Choose the ones that aren’t made with trans fat. Center your diet around whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, and nuts. Use oils such as canola, olive, or sunflower. Buy soft margarines that aren’t made with PHO.

The Future of Trans Fat

Now that health experts have proven the dangers of trans fat, food-regulating authorities have ordered the dangerous fat to be removed from food products. As fewer foods contain trans fat, the number of heart attacks and strokes should decrease. In the next few months, trans fat should no longer be listed on nutrition labels and partially hydrogenated oil should be removed from ingredient lists. In the meantime, stay vigilant against consuming harmful fats and give your body its best opportunity at optimal health.

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