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Making a Healthy TRANSition – Removing Trans-fat from your Diet

September 02, 2015

On June 16, 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a huge step to significantly reduce partially hydrogenated oils, which are a major source of artificial trans-fats in the food supply. Artificial trans-fats are no longer considered “Generally Recognized as Safe” or GRAS for any use in human food. These unhealthy fats have been linked to many health problems such as cardiovascular disease. FDA has set a compliance date of three years to slowly phase out the use of partially hydrogenated oils in our food supply. During this three year compliance period, manufacturers will either reformulate their products without using partially hydrogenated oils or petition for use in their product.

Below is some useful information on trans-fats and why the FDA took action to eliminate partially hydrogenated oils from our food.

What are trans-fats?

There are two different types of trans-fats. The first is artificial; this type of fat is created when hydrogen is added to a vegetable oil to make it more solid, which is called hydrogenation. This process changes a healthy (liquid) fat into an unhealthy (solid) fat, think of vegetable shortening and how it is a solid at room temperature. The second type can be found naturally in small amounts in animal products such as meat, milk, and milk products. Because of the naturally occurring trans-fats, we are unable to fully eliminate trans-fats in our diet, but we do have control over the artificial type.

Why are trans-fats used?

Partially hydrogenated oils were introduced in the 1950’s to help increase shelf life and improve the flavor of processed foods, all while keeping the production costs at a minimum. These products lasted longer on the shelf without going rancid, which saves the manufactures money. Have you noticed that many snacks such as packaged baked goods and cookies, which contain trans-fat, have a long expiration date? Trans-fats also give foods a desirable taste and texture that people crave. The more tasteful a product is, the more likely it will be purchased again.

Why should my family limit trans-fats?

Research shows that trans-fats increase the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in our body. Increased levels of LDL cholesterol can put an individual at greater risk for a heart attack or other health problems. Trans-fat also decreases HDL (good) cholesterol, which functions as the garbage men of the body; it takes the LDL cholesterol from the arteries and throws it away. Limiting trans-fats in your family’s diet can help decrease the risk of developing heart disease later in life and also obesity. Foods that contain trans-fats are highly processed, which means they often are high in fat, sugar, and calories but low in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

How do I know if my food contains trans-fats?

A variety of different foods contain trans-fats such as pizza, popcorn, donuts, cakes, cookies, crackers, stick margarines, and biscuits. The best way to determine if a product contains trans-fats is to look on the nutrition facts label and also the ingredient list. In 2006, the FDA required all manufactures to list trans-fats on the nutrition facts label to help the public make healthy choices. Even though a product can be listed as having 0 grams of trans-fat on the nutrition facts label, it can still contain less than .5 grams per serving. You can also spot trans-fats in the ingredient list as “partially hydrogenated oil”. Best to look in both places to assure your food is a good choice. This is also a great opportunity to teach children how to read the food label so they can make more healthful choices.

How can I help my family eliminate trans-fats from their diet?

  1. Encourage food label reading. Teach family members to look for partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list, which are a source of trans-fats.
  2. Make it a grocery store game. Have children and teens search for similar products where one brand contains partially hydrogenated oils and the other brand does not. For example: Crackers, cookies, and baked goods.
  3. Choose wholesome foods that are minimally processed such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy.
  4. Snack on fresh fruits and vegetables instead of microwave popcorn and packaged cookies
  5. If you are headed out to eat, ask the restaurant owner if their food contains trans-fats. Often they are able to provide an ingredient list for you to review.
  6. Cook with liquid oils (olive oil or canola oil) instead of solid fat such as shortening or lard.
  7. Bake your own muffins, cookies, cakes for parties instead of purchasing from the store.
This action by the FDA of eliminating partially hydrogenated oils in our food supply will help us enjoy safer foods and also live healthier lives.

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