The Trouble with Trans Fat Hype

Trans fat free doesn’t mean fat-free or calorie-free! I was reading an article in The Boston Globe a few days ago, and the topic got me a bit riled up. It was about restaurants in the Boston area going trans fat-free. What I am concerned about is that most people will think if the product doesn’t have trans fat is must be healthy. Not necessarily so.

Just like when manufacturers responded to the fat-free trend several years ago, they reformulated many products to make them fat-free. In reducing overall fat, products often ended up with more sugar and calories. Now with restaurants and manufacturers removing trans fat, they may be replacing the trans fatty acids with saturated fatty acids, which are just as harmful.

Case in point, one of the menu items mentioned was loaded in butter, which of course is 100 % fat, mostly saturated. Health care professionals have known for years that too much trans fat and saturated fat in the diet can increase calorie intake and increase blood cholesterol levels, so it’s a good idea to limit trans fat and sat fat.

The bottom line: if you want to have a healthy diet, you have to look past the marketing hype. The amount and type of fat is just one part of the equation.

What is trans fat?

Trans fat (also known as trans fatty acids) is a specific type of fat formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats (hydrogenated) like shortening and hard margarine. However, a small amount of trans fat is found naturally, primarily in some animal-based foods.

Where will I find trans fat?

Vegetable shortenings, some margarines, baked goods, crackers cookies, snack foods, and other processed foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats are now required to be listed on the Nutrition Facts panel of packaged foods.Trans fat behaves like saturated fat by raising low-density lipoprotein (or “bad”) cholesterol that increases your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Trans fat is made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil — a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats. For more information on trans fat and labeling of foods, go to www.fda.gov.

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