Trans Fats or hydrogenated oils are used to make margarine, deep fried fast foods and many of the cookies, cakes and crackers we enjoy. Trans fats act like saturated fats in your body and raise the level of LDL (bad) cholesterol in your system, but also lower HDL (good) cholesterol level as well – making a more deadly threat than saturated fats.
Three years ago the FDA proposed adding Trans Fats to nutrition labels, but efforts faded with no action. Trans fats are not counted as saturated fats on labels and remains invisible. Some foods with high levels of trans fats can even make “heart healthy” claims and boast of “no cholesterol” or “low saturated fat.” Look for “partially hydrogenated oil” on the package label and you’ll know it contains trans fats, but you still won’t know how much.
Recently, margarine makers have been cutting down on trans fats, as well as total fat, plus a new process called low-trans hydrogenation may soon be used for margarine to cut down on the fat content.
Most people are already aware that eating too much fat can lead to weight gain and possibly heart disease if it’s from animal or saturated fat. Trans fat is another type of fat that creates additional problems for your heart. It is formed during a process called hydrogenation. Manufacturers add hydrogen molecules to polyunsaturated fat, such as corn or soybean oil to make them saturated and more solid at room temperature. Trans fat is dangerous for your heart because it increases the LDL or “bad cholesterol” while lowering the HDL or “good cholesterol.”
Foods containing trans fat are not directly stated on “Food Facts” labels. If the ingredient list contains partially hydrogenated fat then the item contains trans fat without stating the exact amount. Examples of foods that contain trans fat are cookies, cakes, crackers, chips, pastries, fried foods and even low fat snacks.
A frequent debate continues, “which is better for us: butter or margarine?” Butter remains a problem if consumed in large quantities because it is highly saturated and contains cholesterol. Stick margarine is also a concern because it contains large amounts of partially hydrogenated fat or trans fat. Instead, switch to olive oil which is monounsaturated fat and good for your heart. Tub margarine is primarily made from liquid oil and safe to use. Look for labels that state "Trans free" or "No partially hydrogenated fat."Your best bet is to limit foods that are well known sources of trans fat. Cut down on fast food. Most items are highly saturated and contain significant amounts of trans fat. Replace with grilled sandwiches or lean deli meats with fresh vegetables and fruit on the side. As for your “sweet tooth” or salt cravings, go for natural sources such as homemade muffins, sorbet, frozen yogurt, corn tortilla chips with salsa and natural popcorn kernels instead of packaged or microwave varieties.