Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What Really Are Trans Fats?

You may be wondering what they are and why manufacturers keep using them in foods. Trans fats are made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil-a process called hydrogenation, or partial hydrogenation. The result is that the fat stays solid at high temperatures and thus lengthens the shelf life of foods. Unfortunately, it may also shorten the "shelf life" of those who eat them.

Almost all experts agree that trans fatty acids are bad for you. That's why FDA now requires manufacturers to list the amount of trans fats in their products.

The bottom line is: To the degree you reduce your intake of saturated fat and trans fatty acids, you reduce your risk of a heart attack and other illnesses. In the new dietary guidelines, the American heart Association now recommends cutting saturated fats to less than 7% of calories and trans fats to less than 1% of total calories in your diet. So, what can you do to protect yourself and your family?

  • Reduce your intake of foods high in trans fats, which include most fried foods and many commercially prepared cookies, cakes, crackers and snack foods. If the label says "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated", avoid it. In general, steer clear of foods that contain more than 3 grams of trans fats or saturated fats per serving.
  • Cut your consumption of foods high in saturated fats. which includes meat and dairy products as well as some tropical oils, such as palm oils and coconut oils.
  • Support efforts to require restaurants to disclose the amounts of trans fats and saturated fats in the foods they serve. Food manufacturers are required to do so, but not restaurants, even though more than 1/3 of calories are consumed outside the home.
  • Instead of butter, try margarines that are low in both trans fats and saturated fat. Check the labels.
  • When cooking at home, use oils that are low in trans fats and saturated fat, such as olive oil and canola oil, which have the added advantage of being high in the protective omega-3 fatty acids. All fats are dense in calories, so use even "good fats" sparingly.