By Vanessa Chrisman, clinical dietitian at CHOC
Trans fats, found in processed foods, are an inexpensive way to extend the shelf life of foods. While trans fats have been helpful for food manufacturers, they’re considered harmful for humans—which is why it’s so important to eliminate trans fats in your family’s diet. They are unnaturally produced through the process of hydrogenation, where hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oil. This process converts the oil into a solid fat at room temperature.
Trans fats are most often found in fried foods, savory snacks, frozen pizzas, baked goods, margarines, ready-made frosting, and coffee creamers.
Consuming trans fats has been linked to increased levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, lowered levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, and increased plaque in blood vessel walls. This increases the risk for developing heart disease. the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.
In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that these partially hydrogenated oils are not safe for human consumption. Earlier this year, the FDA ban on trans fats began. The FDA has estimated that this ban on trans fats may prevent as many as 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 coronary heart disease deaths in the U.S. annually. The World Health Organization has called for a worldwide ban of artificial trans fats by 2023.
While the ban on trans fats has already begun in the United States, manufacturers in some cases have been given an extension on the compliance date to 2020.
Ways to avoid eating foods that contain trans fats
- Eat more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lean meats, fish, nuts, and lean poultry. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid inner aisles where you’re more likely to find processed foods that may contain trans fats.
- Cut back on consumption of processed foods. Eat these foods less often and in smaller portions.
- Not all processed foods contain trans fats. When you do eat processed foods, avoid processed foods known to contain trans fats such as chips, cookies, donuts, icing, cakes, biscuits, microwave popcorn, crackers, fried fast foods and frozen pizzas.
- Read food labels and avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oil listed as an ingredient.
- Avoid stick margarine and vegetable shortening. Swap this for olive oil, grape seed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, or sunflower oil when baking or preparing meals at home.
- Whether dining in or out, avoid fried foods. Choose foods that are baked, steamed, broiled, or grilled.