Trans fats are a major contributor to heart disease.  Although small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in some meat and dairy products, including beef, lamb and butterfat, the majority of trans fats are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.  Another name for trans fats is “partially hydrogenated oils”.   

Companies like using trans fats in foods because they are easy to use, inexpensive to produce and increase the shelf life of products.  Trans fats, however, increase your risk of developing heart disease and are also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  Trans fats, like saturated fat and dietary cholesterol raise the bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower the good (HDL) cholesterol levels.  Trans fats are found in many foods including French fries, other fried foods, donuts and baked goods including pastries, cookies, biscuits, crackers, pie crusts, and stick margarines and shortenings.  You can find the amount of trans fats in a packaged item by looking at the nutrition facts label, and you can also spot them in the ingredients list as “partially hydrogenated oils”. 

The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of trans-fats you eat to less than 1% of your daily total calories. It is advisable to choose foods low in trans fats, saturated fat and cholesterol as part of a healthy diet to reduce the risk of heart disease.

To get started, here are some practical tips from the Food and Drug Administration:

  • Check the nutrition facts panel on food labels to compare foods.  Choose foods lower in trans fats, saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Choose alternative fats. Replace trans-fats and saturated fats in your diet with mono and poly unsaturated fats such as olive and canola oil, corn oil, sunflower oil and foods like nuts and fish.
  • Choose vegetable oils (except avoid coconut and palm kernel oil) and soft margarines (liquid, tub or spray) more often because the amounts of trans-fat, saturated fat and cholesterol are lower than the amounts in solid shortening, hard (stick) margarine and butter.
  • Consider fish. Most fish are lower in saturated fat than meat
  • Choose lean meats. Choose poultry and remove skin and avoid frying
  • Choose lean beef and pork and trim off visible fat and avoid frying.
  • Ask before you order when eating out. Ask which fats are being used in the preparation of your food when eating or ordering out.
  • Watch calories. Fats are high in calories, so pay attention.
  • Limit sweets and baked goods including cookies, pies, pastries, donuts, biscuits.

When reading food labels, be aware that “zero trans fats” does not necessarily mean that there is absolutely no trans fat in the product; one serving of the food can contain up to 0.5 grams of trans fats, according to the law and still be labeled “trans fat free”.  Only products labeled “no trans fats” really mean there are no trans fats. So this February become aware of what foods contain trans fats, be heart smart and say good-bye to trans fats forever.