If you've ever been concerned about your health, you have probably thought about your diet. One way to improve your diet is to keep foods as close to their original state as possible. Trans fats are about as far away from "natural" as you can get, and occur when hydrogen is added to a liquid oil molecule -- this turns the liquid oil into a solid. It's cheap. It's unnatural. It's bad for our health.
And many Americans who check food labels for trans fats may not realize that even though the label reads, "Trans fats 0 grams per serving," that does not necessarily mean zero. Manufacturing companies which produce foods containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fats can round that number down to zero. So, you might actually be getting 0.4 grams of trans fats per serving, even though the label reads 0 grams.
If you want to avoid trans fats -- and the American Heart Association suggests that based on a 2,000 calorie diet, individuals should have less than 2 grams of trans fats per day (but the preference is no grams) -- reading the ingredients is key. Look for the warning term "partially hydrogenated oils" (also: partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, partially hydrogenated palm oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and partially hydrogenated canola oil).
So, where do these grams of trans fats go unnoticed? The answer, unfortunately, is everywhere. Here are the top three areas:
Americans love pie, but lurking in that flaky crust is vegetable shortening, which may contain partially hydrogenated oils. Other items that fall in this category include boxed pancake and waffle mixes, boxed cake mixes and packaged cakes and sweet rolls. If it's something you can make from scratch -- you'll avoid the trans fats and probably walk away with a better tasting item. If it's something you just have to buy already prepared, read the label and ingredients list before buying.
Do you take your coffee with artificial creamer or half and half? Ever decorated a cake with packaged icing? What about that "frozen dairy dessert" that tries to pass for ice cream? All of these items use partially hydrogenated oils to help enhance the "creaminess" of the product. Homemade buttercream icing is always going to beat out the packaged stuff, and a little "half and half" in your coffee won't hurt you. As for the ice cream, even if it says 0 grams of trans fats per serving, check the label and ingredients list before purchasing.
Some of the tastiest kinds of snacking foods are foods that we should just avoid entirely, items such as microwavable popcorn, frozen fried foods even some of the most popular cookie snacks. Many of these prepared food items list their trans fats at 0 grams, yet in reading the ingredients list, contain partially hydrogenated oils. Air-popping or stove-popping popcorn will eliminate the trans fats and there's nothing like a fresh batch of homemade cookies. As for the frozen fried foods -- savoring these items as a "once-in-a-while" treat is reasonable, however taquitos should never be your child's go-to afterschool snack.
Your best bet for avoiding partially hydrogenated oils:
-- Shop the periphery of the store. Stick to whole food items in the produce, meat and dairy departments. Bring home foods that are as close to their original state as possible.
-- Read the label and the ingredient list. Check for the grams of trans fats per serving, avoid anything over 0 grams (if it is within your power to do so) and even if the grams says "0," ensure that the ingredients does not list any "partially hydrogenated" oils.
-- Cook your own foods from scratch. The best way to avoid trans fats is to prepare foods the old-fashioned way with natural ingredients like how your grandparents would have done. This is the only way to really control what goes into your body.