Trans-fats are heralded as the worst fat you can eat. Consumption of trans-fats substantially increases your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). A 2006 study found that up to 100,000 U.S. deaths per year may be attributable to trans-fat. And it isn’t just a threat to fast-food bingers. Based on a 2000 calorie diet, just 2-6g per day can substantially increase CHD risk. It’s so bad that it has been banned in Austria, Iceland, and Sweden. Several U.S. cities and counties have passed bans in restaurants, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still lurking in the grocery stores.
Make sure you check ingredients labels. While health lobbyists won the battle over major corporations to require reporting trans-fats, labels can still claim “0g” if the amount is less than .5g/serving. A brand can reduce its serving size to get down to .49g and claim 0g. If you have more than what they claim as serving, as we often do, your trans-fat consumption could be dangerous. Four of these “hidden servings” per day and your reaching that “substantial risk” threshold of CHD. Trust me, the nutritional label is as much a part of marketing as anything else on the package. I noticed a pickle brand claiming that a serving was ¼ of a pickle spear just to try and cover the amount of sodium. The key is to look for “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients. Anything thing with partially hydrogenated oils has trans-fats. Here’s a list of some products where you may be surprised to find this dangerous ingredient:
Anything buttery that doesn’t contain butter probably has trans-fats. This includes many popular crackers including some “healthy” low-fat or whole wheat versions. If you eat more than a few (which we typically do) the amount of trans-fat can add up quick. If you need a healthy, crunchy snack, try organic crackers, homemade pita chips, or air-popped popcorn.
This includes deserts like cakes and brownies, and breakfasts like pancakes and waffles. Some of the original varities still contain as much as 1.5g of trans-fat per serving. In recent years, reformulations have lowered the amount, but if you do a lot of baking or eating, the levels can get unhealthy quickly. Buy the ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, etc) separately to make healthier treats.
Non Dairy Creamer
Partially hydrogenated oils are the 2nd or 3rd ingredient on many of these popular products. Unfortunately, it is legal to label the product as low fat or even fat free if it contains low amounts of trans fats. However, the suggested serving is typically just one teaspoon, much less than is typically used. Try milk or truly fat free (no oil) varieties to eliminate any trans-fats.
Dips and Dressings
Maybe this one isn’t a big surprise. Many commercial dressings contain trans-fats. The grocery store has an astonishing number of varities and brands of dressings, many of which contain trans-fats. Generally, vinegerettes and oil-based dressings are a better choice than the creamy ones. Better yet, make your own with olive oil and herbs.
Most of the cereals that contain trans-fat are so sugar-laden, hopefully you are already avoiding them (Oreo O’s, Fruity Pebbles). However, there are a few surprises with trans-fat like Basic 4 and Corn Pops. I don’t need to tell where to look for a healthier option.
Brands like Quaker and Special K are often associated with healthy food choices, but some of their snack bars are loaded with empty calories and unhealthy ingredients like high fructose corn syrup. I’ve noticed a few labels with partially hydrogenated oil listed second!
Trail mix is generally regarded as a healthy snack when you’re burning a lot of calories. But it often contains candy such as peanut butter chips, which contain the elusive partially hydrogenated oil. Be sure to also check when buying in bulk, as ingredients are often overlooked.
Popcorn by itself is a pretty healthy snack. But some of the oily butter substitutes are loaded with trans-fats. Some of the highest contain 5-7g per half bag! Look for “no butter” or “light” versions without the partially hydrogenated oil. To avoid the oil all together, try air-popping. If you really need it, add some real butter, sparingly. Olive oil also make a great alternative.