The Hidden Truth About Trans Fat
Quiz: True or False. Since 2015, trans fats have been removed from all food products sold in the United States?
If you chose false, you're correct; and if you guessed true, you are also right. Trans fats enter our food from two primary sources: animal-based products (e.g., meat and dairy products) and manufactured foods. Trans fat comes from partially hydrogenated oils (the liquid form) and is converted to a solid fat. Trans fats are added to foods for flavor and texture and to prevent food spoilage and increase shelf life. Examples include baked goods, coffee creamer, fried foods, ready-to-use frostings and refrigerated dough products (e.g., biscuits, frozen pizza, etc.). Who doesn't want to have tasty, flavorful food? Sounds good, right? Think again.
Trans fat is so unhealthy for human consumption that in 2013, the Food and Drug Administration removed it from the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) database. Two years later, on June 15, 2015, the Food and Drug Administration ordered the food industry to remove trans fats from their products within three years -- by 2018. Unfortunately, the truth is trans fat is still lurking in our foods. Food companies are allowed to withhold trans fat on their nutrition labels if the amount of trans fat is less than 0.5 grams per serving. But imagine this worst-case scenario: you eat a breakfast sandwich in the morning, frozen pizza for lunch, crackers and cheese for an afternoon snack, and popcorn for a movie night. Food manufacturers are able to mislead consumers about the trans fat content in their products. They are legally able to say their product has 0 grams of trans fat if there is less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. But don’t forget, often times we eat more than one serving – which leads to higher amounts of trans fat consumption. This can have detrimental effects on our health. To avoid falling into the food manufacturers’ trap, be a smart consumer and read the list of ingredients. If you see “partially hydrogenated oils” that means the product contains trans fat and you should avoid it.
Will trans fats ever be removed entirely from the market? As of right now, the answer is no. Be a smart shopper; take the time to read nutrition labels and ingredients. The more you practice reading labels, the better you will become at identifying and deciphering ingredients. Look for ingredients that say trans fat and partially hydrogenated oil and avoid them. Replace foods containing partially hydrogenated oils, saturated fats (e.g., butter) and trans fats with healthier alternatives such as olive oil, avocado oil, canola oil and sesame oil. Be mindful of the portion size of healthier fats used as the calories can still add up. To get you started, try the Chili-Lime Roasted Chickpea recipe below, which calls for a plant-based healthy oil (typically liquid at room temperature), dried or unsalted canned chickpeas (garbanzo), chili powder, grated lime, kosher salt and olive oil.