Trans Fat: A Bittersweet Enemy

Despite the previous belief that trans fats are a “healthy alternative,” we now know that this simply isn’t true. In fact, we’ve known this for a while. Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered food companies to remove trans fats from all of their products by 2018, hopefully ending a decade’s long love affair with a bittersweet enemy.

Trans fats are partially hydrogenated oils and can occur naturally in some meats and dairy products. However, the FDA is most concerned about the type that is artificially produced during the manufacturing process. They became really popular in the 1950s as they make foods last longer, enhance taste, decrease production costs, and were thought to be healthier.  Finally, we no longer had to feel quite as guilty over ordering that large fry or eating that second piece of pie.

Unfortunately, we were living in sweet, blissful ignorance. Trans fats are no better than their saturated counterparts. In fact, they’re worse. While overconsumption of other fats contribute to high cholesterol, trans fats cause a double whopper by raising the levels of bad (LDL) and lowering the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol. They have also been associated with increased incidence of diabetes and memory loss. As research continued to uncover the fatty truth about trans fats, in 2006 the FDA mandated that food be labeled to reflect trans fat content. By 2012, U.S. trans fat intake was cut by 75%, and in 2013 the FDA officially ruled that they were not safe for consumption. Where does that leave us today?

The fact is that Americans are still consuming up to 1.3g of trans fats every day. This may seem like a small amount, but it adds up. While many manufacturers have removed trans fats from their products, they are still lurking in the aisles of grocery stores, in the kitchens of popular restaurants, and in the pantries of your homes. But, what can consumers do before 2018?

Change Your Diet

  • The CDC estimates that avoiding artificial trans fats could prevent 10,000-20,000 heart attacks and 3,000-7,000 deaths due to coronary heart disease every year.
  • Trans fats are commonly found in baked goods, fried foods, creamer and margarine, and some snacks. Read this helpful guide to avoid food products that still contain trans fats.

Read the Label

  • Even if a product is labeled as trans fat free, it still may have up to .5g. Check the ingredient list for “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil”.
  • Here are some more tips on reading food labels.

Be Aware of Restaurant Practices

  • New York has banned all restaurants from using trans fats in their preparation process, but most states have not.  Don’t be afraid to ask how your food is being prepared!

Check Out More Tips from the CDC

We have enough things to worry about when we choose to eat sweet and fatty foods, and soon artificial trans fats won’t be one of them. It’s time to say goodbye, and good riddance!

Sydney Butler was a NWHN intern in Summer 2015.

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