In order to make healthy food choices it is important to understand what information is provided on product nutrition labels. My goal is to help you be a well informed consumer. Let’s first begin with understanding what Trans Fat and Partially Hydrogenated Oils(PHOs) are. Trans Fats occur natually in meat and dairy products. But most trans fats are made from oils through a food processing method called partial hydrogenation. By partially hydrogenating oils, they become easier to cook with and less likely to spoil than do naturally occuring oils. Partially Hydrogenated Oils are the primary source of industrially produced trans fat. They are found in processed foods, such as baked goods and frozen foods. It can be hidden in ready to go foods and fried foods. Here is a list of examples, please understand this list is endless:
- microwave popcorn
- pie crust
- french fries
PHOs have been used since the 1950s as ingredients to increase the shelf-life and flavor stability of processed foods. Ever wonder why foods can last in your cupboard for months, if not for years? How can a healthy body remain healthy eating such foods?
Why are PHOs and Trans Fat bad for you? The intake of trans fat and PHOs has been linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disese by contributing to the buildup of plaque inside the arteries that may cause a heart attack. This occurs becuse trans fats lower your good cholesterol and raises your bad cholesterol. Heart Disease is the leading cause of all deaths in all races, but statistics show that the risk of death is higher among black women when compared to white females and when compared to all races. Also, trans fats increase your risk for other illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, strokes and lead to chronic inflammation.
So what can you do to avoid trans fats? Fortunately, in January 2006 the Food and Drug Adminstration(FDA) finally declared trans fats as unsafe for human consumption and required the food industry to label the amount of trans fats on the nutrition label. Unfortunately, the powerful food industry lobbyists found a loophole that only allowed them to inform consumers that their product contained trans fat if it was greater that 0.5 grams per serving. In otherwords, companies can make the claim a product has “0 grams of trans fat” if it contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. Also, the food industry began to use the term “hydrogenated” instead of labeling the word trans fat. If you recall, partially hydrogentated fat is trans fat.
There is good news to report on the fight on trans fats. On June 16, 2015, the FDA annouced that artificial trans fats would be banned within three years. This will go a long way in fighting the war on obesity and heart disease.
Until then, what can you do to protect yourself and improve your health? READ YOUR LABLES. When reading labels look for both trans fat and for the word hydrogenated. When ever possible opt for foods with lower trans fats. Even better, opt for fresh, whole foods such as lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Tune in to Part II, where I will discuss Total Fat, Saturated and Monounsaturated Fats.
by Marjorie Binette, MD