Now that the FDA will require food companies to list how much trans fat is in a food, you'll be able to scan and add up how much of the artery-clogging substance you're eating.
"Trans fatty acids are made when you take vegetable oil and chemically change it and turn it into a solid," Cheryl Martin, Registered Dietitian.
That solidified oil is what gives chips, store bought baked goods, and crackers a longer shelf life. While we all know how tasty these foods can be, we also know they can lead to obesity and heart disease.
It takes an unsaturated fat and gives it the same properties as saturated fats, meat fats, etc. so that can raise your bad cholesterol," said Martin.
Some companies like Frito Lay have already eliminated trans fat from their foods and have listed it on their labels. But health experts warn, just because there's no trans fat there, doesn't make it a healthy food choice.
"We should just look at trans fatty acids and forget the fact that saturated fats are in a majority of our foods, and we should be concerned about those as well," said Martin.
The label regulation won't take effect until January 2006, but the FDA says once that happens, it could prevent as many as 500 heart disease related deaths each year.
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Trans Fat: The Hidden Dangers
The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, has found a relationship between the intake of trans fat and the increased risk for heart disease. Trans fat is known to increase blood levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL), so-called "bad" cholesterol, while lowering levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL), known as "good" cholesterol. The Institute recommends that consumers limit trans fat in their diets (no safe daily upper limit has been set). Trouble is, you may not know where it lurks, since most products with trans fat currently do not include it on their labels. To rectify this, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is working on the final stages of a new rule that would require trans-fat labeling on packaged foods.
Trans fat is formed when liquid vegetable oil is turned into a solid, most commonly in the manufacture of margarine or shortening. Many food companies prefer to use trans fat instead of oil because it can reduce costs, extend a product’s storage life and improve characteristics such as flavor and texture.
Until trans fat is included on labels, here are some of the ways you can detect and avoid it:
Read Ingredients: Look for shortening or partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredient list. The closer to the top these ingredients appear, and the more total fat listed, the more trans fat the product usually has. Shop for products low in total fat, which means bad fats should be fairly low too. Pay attention to serving size. The fat content may be low for that serving, but do you really eat only that amount? Note that products can still make claims such as "low saturated fat" and "extra lean" without considering trans fat. The words “saturated fat free" however, do mean less than 0.5 gram each of saturated and trans fat per serving.
Do Some Math: If you are up for the challenge, you could try to figure out the trans-fat content of some foods. To do this you would need to add up the other individual fats first, though they are not all always listed (saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated). If they don’t match the total fat, and partially hydrogenated oil is one of the main ingredients, trans fat is probably what makes up the balance.
Avoid Common Culprits: Trans fatty acids are found in foods containing shortening, including pastries and fried foods, and in lower levels in dairy products and meats. But beware, they are hardly predictable and can turn up in places you might not expect, such as cereals and waffles. On the other hand, potato chips, pretzels, and salad dressings, which I thought would contain them, rarely do, because they are not often made with partially hydrogenated oil. Peanut butter with small amounts of hydrogenated oil, typically has only traces of trans fat. Soft or liquid margarines tend to have less trans fat and many companies that produce them are voluntarily noting it on the package.
Researchers are still trying to determine whether the trans fat that occurs naturally in animal foods has the same effect on your health as the trans fat in processed foods, as well as whether margarine that is high in trans fat is any better or worse for your heart than butter.