Partially hydrogenated oil, or trans fat, is the least healthy fat for us to eat. The more we avoid foods containing trans fat, the better for our long term well-being.
Small amounts of naturally occurring trans fat are found in certain dairy products and meat, but most of the trans fat in our food today is formed by an industrial process. Hydrogen is added to vegetable oils, causing them to harden at room temperature.
Using partially hydrogenated oil in foods allows products to sit on a shelf longer without spoiling. Restaurants might also use these oils for deep frying since the oil is stable and needs less frequent changing. Unfortunately, what gives a food item longer shelf life is not conducive to human life.
The FDA Weighs In
It is no longer only “heath nuts” pointing out the problem of trans fats. The Department of Agriculture suggests people keep their consumption to a minimum. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has stopped proclaiming trans fat is “generally safe” and suggests it is best phased out of food production. This initial FDA declaration is under review.
One thing that concerns doctors is the effect of partially hydrogenated oil on our HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
- LDL, or low-density lipoprotein can build up on our artery walls, narrowing the passage. Trans fat tends to raise our LDL.
- HDL, or high-density lipoprotein latches on to excess cholesterol in our blood stream and hauls it back to the liver. Trans fat tends to lower HDL.
It is fatty deposits clinging to artery walls that harm our blood vessels over time. Damaged arteries may develop circulation-blocking blood clots that can trigger heart attacks or strokes.
Deciphering Food Labels
Many products we purchase at our grocery stores are made with partially hydrogenated oil, for instance:
- packaged or microwave popcorn, potato, tortilla, and corn chips.
- refrigerated or frozen dough items such as canned biscuits or cinnamon rolls, and frozen pizza crusts.
- nondairy coffee creamers, and sticks of margarine.
- many cookies, pie crusts, crackers, and cakes contain shortening that was made from partially hydrogenated oils.
- deep fried foods: doughnuts, fried chicken, and French fries.
To start eliminating trans fat from your diet you must know what to look for on food labels. A food label in the U.S. can indicate zero grams of trans fat if the product contains less than 0.5 grams trans fat per serving.Though 0.5 grams is not much, it adds up fast if you enjoy more than one serving of several low trans fat foods.
So, when reading a food label for trans fat, also look for “trans-fatty acids,” “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” or “partially hydrogenated oils.” These phrases let you know that even if the amount is fewer than 0.5 grams, the product contains trans fat.
Getting the Fats We Need
Although trans fat is undesirable, our bodies need healthy fats to function. A diet made of 25 to 35 percent fat calories is considered healthy. Most doctors still recommend no more than ten percent of these calories come from saturated fats such as palm kernel, palm, and coconut oils.
However, some medical professionals are more generous concerning the intake of saturated fats, and many nutritionists cannot say enough about the health benefits of coconut oil. It is wise to read various viewpoints about saturated fats before deciding on their safety.
Monounsaturated fats are generally considered good for people, especially top quality olive oils. Canola oils are also monounsaturated. Eating foods with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., fatty fish, flaxseed) is another way to enjoy ingesting healthy fats.