Are you a Fat Buster? Do you avoid buying foods that are high in saturated fats and cholesterol? When you go grocery shopping, do you read “Nutrition Facts” panels for assistance in selecting healthy foods for your family? If so, I have great news for you! As of January 1, 2006, the FDA requires that manufacturers list the amount of trans fats on Nutrition Panels.
Why do you need to know this? The shocking truth is that trans fats have always lurked in our foods, unpublicized. Manufacturers make trans fat when they add hydrogen to vegetable oil — a process called hydrogenation that turns liquid oils into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats. With no way to measure trans fats, careful shoppers like you and I have been buying foods laden with them.
Why should you care about trans fat? What harm does it do? Trans fat, like saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, raises the LDL cholesterol that increases your risk for coronary heart disease. Although saturated fat is the main dietary culprit that raises LDL, trans fat and dietary cholesterol also contribute significantly.
Why do health books recommend that we include fat in our diets if it’s so bad for us? When eaten in moderation, fat is important for proper growth, development, and maintenance of good health as it is a major source of energy for the body and aids in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K as well as carotenoids. In addition, as any good cook knows, fat provides taste, consistency, and stability and helps give us that happy, full-tummy feeling.
However, there are “good” fats and “bad” ones, just as we have good and bad blood cholesterol. Saturated fat and trans fat raise LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease. Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, and corn oil) do not raise LDL cholesterol and are beneficial when consumed in moderation.
In which foods does trans fat lurk? Mainly trans fats are found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, candies, salad dressings, baked goods, and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils. You know . . . all your favorite foods.
Even some dietary supplements like energy and nutrition bars contain trans fat from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil as well as saturated fat or cholesterol. Up until now, you had no way to identify the levels of trans fat in your foods, but now you are able to identify the amounts of all three fats in your foods.
When making food choices that will be low in saturated fat and cholesterol, remember that the combined totals of saturated and trans fats along with cholesterol should be low . . . 5% of the Daily Value or less is low and 20 % or more is high. I want to assure you that trans fats, although present in many of the foods we eat, are not “essential” to any healthy diet. . Numerous health and government authorities, including the U.
S. Surgeon General, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association, advocate reducing dietary fat to 30 percent or less of total calories.
If you are sadly crossing your favorite foods off your grocery list, you may be wondering what you can serve instead. Fear not, you still have a few good choices left:
• Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats do not raise LDL cholesterol levels and you can eat them, in moderation. Sources of monounsaturated fats include olive and canola oils. Natural vegetable oils (such as olive, canola, peanut, corn, soybean, safflower, and sunflower oils) have no trans fats and are high in good fats.
• Select alternative fats: olive, canola, soybean, corn, and sunflower oils, soft margarines, nuts and fish, lean meats and skinless poultry.
• Feel free to serve your family fish, as most fish are lower in saturated fats than meat. Some fish, such as mackerel, sardines, and salmon, contain omega-3 fatty acids help fight against heart disease.
• Serve a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, cereals, and pastas, chicken and fish, non-fat or low-fat dairy products. If you cook at home, select lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, cereals, and pastas. Choose non-fat or low-fat dairy products and foods that have a low % of bad fats.
Cooking your own meals helps you better control the type and amount of fats you eat.
However, if eating out is one of the great joys of your life, don’t despair. You can still cut down on trans fats when eating out by eating less fast food and by asking before you order in a restaurant if they will cook your food in natural vegetable oils. If you choose wisely, avoiding fried foods, for example, you can eat out and still have healthy meals.
Avoiding trans fats does provide another benefit that I think you will enjoy! Fats are high in calories; 9 calories per gram, making fat the most concentrated source of calories. By comparison, carbohydrates and protein have only 4 calories per gram. Therefore, replacing harmful fats with healthy foods will naturally result in dropping a few pounds of “ugly fat” and reduce your tendency for health problems.
Now that manufacturers must reveal the presence of the ghostly trans fats on nutrition labels, become the “Fat Buster” for your family and enjoy the multiple benefits of healthier eating.