In our society of low-fat foods and diet fads, it is very confusing to figure out which fats are healthy and which are unhealthy. In the next few blogs we will look at the best and the worst of fats and oils and learn the healthiest ways to cook with them. So which are the worst fats?
The worst fats to eat? – Trans Fats
The worst type of fat that everyone should avoid is trans fats. These fats are produced through industrial processes like hydrogenation that make vegetable oils into solids. For instance, vegetable shortening and margarine usually contain these nasty fats.
The term “trans” refers to their chemical structure, and the hydrogenation process actually changes the chemical shape of the fat molecule. The problem is that because they are synthetically created, the body doesn’t know what to do with them and they can cause inflammation, hardening of the arteries and other problems.
So why are these fats in our foods? The main reason is because they are inexpensive, in fact the process of partial hydrogenation was first used in Napoleon’s time to get a cheaper alternative to butter or lard to feed soldiers. Not only are trans fats cheap, but they also extend shelf-life of items, like baked goods, junk food and breads, making them popular with food manufacturers. The cheaper your food items, the more likely these fats are hidden in them. This is another reason why it is so important to read your labels.
Processed Foods where Trans Fats are hidden:
- 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
What does “zero trans fats” really mean?
Companies are required by Canadian and US law to label trans fats on their packaging. But keep in mind that when a product claims “zero trans fats”, it does not necessarily mean that your food is 100% free of these bad fats. In fact, in the USA, the FDA allows this labeling on foods with up to 0.5g of trans fats per serving. This is where you have to be your own food detective and read the ingredient list to find out if there is “partially hydrogenated” on any of the items it contains.
Are their Trans Fats naturally found in foods?
There are very small amounts of trans fats that naturally occur in animal products such as beef, lamb, and dairy products. But most come from processing liquid vegetable oil to become a solid fat. Two Canadian studies have shown that these naturally occurring trans fats may have a beneficial effect to the body.
Why are processed Trans Fats bad for you?
Trans fats are bad for your heart. A plethora of studies have shown that they cause your healthy HDL cholesterol to lower and the “bad” LDL cholesterol to rise.
The bottom line, is that you should read your labels and avoid eating foods that list “partially hydrogenated” or trans fats. At restaurants and fast food establishments, ask for their nutritional pamphlets or look on their websites. In the long run, you will find that you eat less processed and fast foods. Being more aware of your food ingredients is always a recipe for better health.
Check out next week’s blog for an exploration of which oils are the healthiest and which are safe to heat.
In the meantime, we’d love your feedback. And, don’t forget to leave a link back to your own blog via the commentluv feature here on the site.
Until next time,