Trans fats have been struck with numerous blows from medical studies and consumer health crusaders. Now the American Heart Association (AHA) has delivered what many hope will be the knockout punch. They have come forward as the first major health organization to set a recommended limit on dietary trans fats, less than 1% of total calories. On a standard 2000-calorie diet this equates to just over 2 g of trans fat per day.
Why is it so important to limit trans fats? From the AHA’s standpoint, partially hydrogenated oils cause an increase in the levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and a decrease in the levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol). This inverse relationship is a widely recognized contributor to heart disease. For those who need a more visual picture, trans fats have another sneaky side effect, the infamous “spare tire”.
Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine put a group of monkeys on a reduced-calorie diet, each with a respectable 35% of calories from fat. However, some of the monkeys received a portion of their fat (8% of overall calories) from trans fats. Over a six-year time frame, the monkeys fed the diet high in trans fats had an increase in weight of 7.2 percent, versus only 1.8 percent in the other monkeys. For a 150-pound person this would equate to 10.8 pounds of weight gain per six years, versus just 2.7 pounds with the healthier diet. Worse yet, the extra fat was concentrated in the abdomen.
Fortunately, several information providers are already on top of the trans fat ban. Alisa Fleming, creator of www.GoDairyFree.org, has compiled product lists with over 2500 manufactured foods that are not only dairy free, but also trans fat free. According to Fleming, “Many people cut back on dairy for allergies, lactose intolerance, weight loss, or other lifestyle choices. However, they often replace their previous dairy favorites with unhealthy alternatives. We wanted to present people with the healthiest options possible, particularly since there are so many.”
Although the lists at GoDairyFree.org were first created for dairy free consumers, they have proven beneficial for various diets. Special columns note if the foods are also vegan and/or gluten free. In addition, the lists include many types of foods (breakfast cereals, snacks, marinades, etc.) that almost any health conscious consumer would find useful.
Fleming also shared some or her favorite suggestions for cutting the trans fat:
Avoid Fried Foods
Notoriously cooked in trans fats for that perfect crispy crunch, fried foods have become an everyday indulgence in the American Diet. Although current activists are making an example of KFC, the practice of using trans fats to deep fry is rampant throughout the restaurant industry, from donut shops to fine dining. Avoid the temptation of fried foods, and you will limit your trans fat exposure significantly.
Be Selective with Pre-Baked and Packaged Foods
Food manufacturers love trans fats, as they enhance the texture and lengthen the shelf life of goods. Everything from a typical loaf of bread to a child’s box of animal crackers is suspect. This takes us to our next point….
Always Read the Ingredients
Trans Fat Free is a very deceiving label. The FDA permits this claim of zero grams as long as the food contains less than a half a gram of trans fat per serving. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) discovered that many products, in particular margarines, were pushing the limits of these claims. Most of those tested contained .3 to .4 grams of trans fat. With the AHA’s low recommended limit these “insignificant” amounts add up quickly. Always check the ingredient statement for ‘partially hydrogenated oil’. Its presence will confirm that the product still contains a measurable amount of trans fat.
Use Natural Oils Whenever Possible
The AHA still hesitates to recommend butter over margarine due to the high level of saturated fat. However, as noted, most brands of margarine do contain partially hydrogenated oils. Luckily, olive and vegetable oils are far more versatile in both cooking and baking than many home cooks realize. Even chocolate chip cookies come out fantastic when a reduced amount of oil is used in place of the butter or margarine.
Limit Consumption of Animal Products
Trans fats do occur naturally in small amounts within animal products such as milk, beef, and lamb. Although these foods may be a part of a healthy diet, the Standard American Diet leans towards overindulgence in this area.
For more information on the American Heart Associations new dietary guidelines, download the “Making Healthy Food and Lifestyle Choices” brochure at www.AmericanHeart.org. For more information on trans fat free products, check out the free printable Grocery Shopping Product Lists at www.GoDairyFree.org.