Sometimes, it’s hard to find Food With Low Trans Fat that tastes good without being high in trans fats. But not at Applebee’s. Our delicious entrees are cooked the way you like them and still limit the amount of trans fats you get.
Food With Low Trans Fat
- Limit total intake of fats and oils.
- Avoid butter, stick margarine, shortening, lard, palm and coconut oils.
- Limit mayonnaise, salad dressings, gravies and sauces, unless they are homemade with low-fat ingredients.
- Limit chocolate.
- Choose low-fat and nonfat products, such as low-fat mayonnaise, low-fat or non-hydrogenated peanut butter, low-fat or fat-free salad dressings and nonfat gravy.
- Use vegetable oil, such as canola or olive oil.
- Look for margarine that does not contain trans fatty acids.
- Use nuts in moderate amounts.
- Read ingredient labels carefully to determine both amount and type of fat present in foods. Limit saturated and trans fats.
- Avoid high-fat processed and convenience foods.
Meats and Meat Alternatives
- Choose fish, chicken, turkey and lean meats.
- Use dried beans, peas, lentils and tofu.
- Limit egg yolks to three to four per week.
- If you eat red meat, limit to no more than three servings per week and choose loin or round cuts.
- Avoid fatty meats, such as bacon, sausage, franks, luncheon meats and ribs.
- Avoid all organ meats, including liver.
- Choose nonfat or low-fat milk, yogurt and cottage cheese.
- Most cheeses are high in fat. Choose cheeses made from non-fat milk, such as mozzarella and ricotta cheese.
- Choose light or fat-free cream cheese and sour cream.
- Avoid cream and sauces made with cream.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
- Use lemon juice, vinegar or “mist” olive oil on vegetables.
- Avoid adding sauces, fat or oil to vegetables.
Breads, Cereals and Grains
- Choose whole-grain breads, cereals, pastas and rice.
- Avoid high-fat snack foods, such as granola, cookies, pies, pastries, doughnuts and croissants.
- Avoid deep fried foods.
- Trim visible fat off meats and remove skin from poultry before cooking.
- Bake, broil, boil, poach or roast poultry, fish and lean meats.
- Drain and discard fat that drains out of meat as you cook it.
- Add little or no fat to foods.
- Use vegetable oil sprays to grease pans for cooking or baking.
- Steam vegetables.
- Use herbs or no-oil marinades to flavor foods.
Ways to Eliminate Trans Fats in Your Family’s Diet
Trans fats, found in processed foods, are an inexpensive way to extend the shelf life of foods. While trans fats have been helpful for food manufacturers, they’re considered harmful for humans—which is why it’s so important to eliminate trans fats in your family’s diet. They are unnaturally produced through the process of hydrogenation, where hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oil. This process converts the oil into a solid fat at room temperature.
Trans fats are most often found in fried foods, savory snacks, frozen pizzas, baked goods, margarines, ready-made frosting, and coffee creamers.
Consuming trans fats has been linked to increased levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, lowered levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, and increased plaque in blood vessel walls. This increases the risk for developing heart disease. the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.
In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that these partially hydrogenated oils are not safe for human consumption. Earlier this year, the FDA ban on trans fats began. The FDA has estimated that this ban on trans fats may prevent as many as 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 coronary heart disease deaths in the U.S. annually. The World Health Organization has called for a worldwide ban of artificial trans fats by 2023.
While the ban on trans fats has already begun in the United States, manufacturers in some cases have been given an extension on the compliance date to 2020.
Ways to avoid eating foods that contain trans fats
- Eat more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lean meats, fish, nuts, and lean poultry. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid inner aisles where you’re more likely to find processed foods that may contain trans fats.
- Cut back on consumption of processed foods. Eat these foods less often and in smaller portions.
- Not all processed foods contain trans fats. When you do eat processed foods, avoid processed foods known to contain trans fats such as chips, cookies, donuts, icing, cakes, biscuits, microwave popcorn, crackers, fried fast foods and frozen pizzas.
- Read food labels and avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oil listed as an ingredient.
- Avoid stick margarine and vegetable shortening. Swap this for olive oil, grape seed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, or sunflower oil when baking or preparing meals at home.
- Whether dining in or out, avoid fried foods. Choose foods that are baked, steamed, broiled, or grilled.
Trans-Fat-Free Food: What’s the Truth?
We’ve made great progress since January 2006, when Congress required that trans fat content be listed on food labels. Food manufacturers and restaurants that used the unhealthy fats have scrambled to find alternatives so they can boast of their “trans-fat-free” foods. Bills to limit or ban trans fats in restaurants or school cafeterias have been introduced in many states.
Artery-clogging trans fats have been made out to be the bad guy in American diets — and there’s good reason for that. But the truth is that just because something is trans-fat-free, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. Experts agree that using healthy fats, such as canola oil, olive oil, and plant sterols is better than using the artery-clogging trans or saturated fats. Yet all fats are loaded with calories — and so need to be limited in our diet.
To make it even more confusing, labels boasting “zero trans fat” don’t always mean a food is completely trans-fat-free. By law, such foods can contain small amounts of trans fats per serving. You’ll still need to turn over the package and look at the list of ingredients and the nutrition facts panel.
So just what are trans fats? There are two types — the naturally occurring type, found in small amounts in dairy and meat, and the artificial kind that results when liquid oils are hardened into “partially hydrogenated” fats. Natural trans fats are not the ones of concern, especially if you usually choose low-fat dairy and lean meats. The real worry in the American diet is the artificial trans fats, which are used extensively in fried foods, baked goods, cookies, icings, crackers, packaged snack foods, microwave popcorn, and some stick margarines.
These artificial trans fats started getting lots of attention after research showed that they could increase the risk for heart disease by increasing “bad” LDL cholesterol and decreasing “good” HDL cholesterol.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting trans fat to less than 2 grams per day (a figure that includes the naturally occurring trans fats). The 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines simply recommend keeping trans-fats consumption as low as possible.
The Real Meaning of ‘Zero Trans Fats’
In any grocery, you’ll see many products boasting “zero trans fats.” Yet this does not necessarily mean there is absolutely no trans fat in the product.
“Even though the label states “zero trans fats,” one serving of the food can contain up to 0.5 grams of trans fat, according to the law, and still be labeled trans-fat-free,” explains Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD.
The same guideline exists for saturated fats. Only when the food label states “no trans fats” does it really mean there are none.
The problem is that small amounts of these artery-clogging fats can add up quickly, especially if you eat several servings each day of foods that contain up to 0.5 grams per serving.
For example, popcorn can be an excellent source of fiber, is a whole grain, and can be low in calories. But if you eat several cups of microwave popcorn, the trans fat can really add up.
“Most people eat three cups at a sitting, which is three times the serving size and can have as much as 1.5 grams of trans fats,” says Ward, author of The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to the New Food Pyramids. “The same goes for trans-fat-free cookies that are easy to eat by the handful and add up quickly.”
How to Find Trans Fats on Labels
The only way to be sure you’re getting a truly trans-fat-free food is to check the list of ingredients on the label. Avoid products containing “partially hydrogenated fats or oils” (the main source of trans fats) or “shortening.” Also keep in mind that some manufacturers are listing components of food ingredients separately so they can move trans fats lower on the list of ingredients.
Michael Jacobson, executive director for the watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest, suggests looking beyond trans fats when you’re reading labels.
“There is a frozen ice cream snack that claims zero trans fat, yet has 20 grams of saturated fat in one serving,” he says. “So even though it has no trans fats, it contains a day’s worth of saturated fat and is anything but healthy.
“Trans fats are the worst fats, even more so than saturated fats, but you must evaluate a food on the entire profile, including calories, total fat, saturated fat, vitamins, mineral, sodium, sugar, and fiber.”
Trans Fat Substitutes
If a label says trans-fat-free, what else might the food item have in it? Food chemists are experimenting with different fats and oils that are suitable replacements and don’t alter taste or texture.
“Most of the fast-food restaurants have done a very good job switching to a vegetable oil like soybean oil to deep-fry their foods,” says Jacobson.
Using heart-healthier monounsaturated or polyunsaturated oils, such as olive, canola, or corn oil, is a great option for some products, but doesn’t work when you need a solid fat to make a food. Replacing trans fat with saturated fat is better, but not ideal.
“Trans fats are worse than any other fat, including butter or lard, so look for foods that use the least amount of trans fats,” says Jacobson. “Even if it contains a little saturated fat, it is better than consuming the trans fat.”
Adds Ward: “Tropical oils such as palm, palm kernel, and coconut may not contain trans fats, but they contain unhealthy saturated fats that are almost as bad for you as partially hydrogenated fats.”
Trans Fats When You’re Eating Out
But what about foods in restaurants, or from outside the U.S. where trans fat labeling may not be required? When restaurants and state fairs boast that their oils are trans-fat-free, some consumers may be misled into believing fried foods are good for them.
“Using trans-fat-free cooking oil to fry foods is certainly better,” says Ward. “But the food is still fried, and fried food is high in fat and calories and generally not recommended for the heart or the waistline.”
Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin Robbins, Denny’s, IHOP, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks are among the food companies that have replaced trans fats or are committed to doing so. Yet plenty of restaurants still use them.
“Avoiding fried foods and cakes, cookies, and pastries is the easiest way to reduce trans fat consumption when you eat out,” says Jacobsen.
You can also ask about the type of fat used for frying, baking, and in salad dressings. Even if the menu boasts that items are “cooked in vegetable oil,” that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re trans- fat-free foods. They may contain some partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.
Beyond Trans Fats
While eliminating trans fats is important, it’s only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to protecting your heart and health.
“Trans fat is getting lots of bad press but it is important to keep in mind the ‘big’ fat picture, which includes total fat, saturated fat, and a healthy lifestyle,” says cardiologist Robert Eckel, MD.
“Limiting trans fats is … only one component of a healthy dietary pattern that includes eating a wide variety of nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; limiting total fats [and] saturated fats; getting regular physical activity; and being at a healthy weight,” says Tufts University researcher Alice Lichtenstein,DSc. Eckel, past president of the AHA, adds not smoking to that healthy lifestyle list.
To help educate consumers about trans fats and other fats, the AHA has launched a “Face the Fats” campaign, enlisting the help of Eckel as well as The Food Network’s Alton Brown, known for his scientific approach to cooking. Brown uses his knowledge of food to help consumers learn to make low-fat substitutions that are nutritious and still delicious.
“I look at recipes and see how I can make it healthier by reducing the amount or type of fat, using a replacement ingredient, or altering the cooking method,” says Brown. “But sometimes, none of these work and the answer is to simply eat a smaller portion.”
Types of Fat
Unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, are considered beneficial fats because they can improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, stabilize heart rhythms, and play a number of other beneficial roles. Unsaturated fats are predominantly found in foods from plants, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.
There are two types of “good” unsaturated fats:
1. Monounsaturated fats are found in high concentrations in:
- Olive, peanut, and canola oils
- Nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans
- Seeds such as pumpkin and sesame seeds
2. Polyunsaturated fats are found in high concentrations in
- Sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils
- Flax seeds
- Canola oil – though higher in monounsaturated fat, it’s also a good source of polyunsaturated fat.
Omega-3 fats are an important type of polyunsaturated fat. The body can’t make these, so they must come from food.
- An excellent way to get omega-3 fats is by eating fish 2-3 times a week.
- Good plant sources of omega-3 fats include flax seeds, walnuts, and canola or soybean oil.
- Higher blood omega-3 fats are associated with lower risk of premature death among older adults, according to a study by HSPH faculty.
- Read more about omega-3 fats in our Ask the Expert with Dr. Frank Sacks.
Most people don’t eat enough healthful unsaturated fats. The American Heart Association suggests that 8-10 percent of daily calories should come from polyunsaturated fats, and there is evidence that eating more polyunsaturated fat—up to 15 percent of daily calories—in place of saturated fat can lower heart disease risk.
- Dutch researchers conducted an analysis of 60 trials that examined the effects of carbohydrates and various fats on blood lipid levels. In trials in which polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats were eaten in place of carbohydrates, these good fats decreased levels of harmful LDL and increased protective HDL.
- More recently, a randomized trial known as the Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health (OmniHeart) showed that replacing a carbohydrate-rich diet with one rich in unsaturated fat, predominantly monounsaturated fats, lowers blood pressure, improves lipid levels, and reduces the estimated cardiovascular risk.
Finding Foods with Healthy Fats is a handy visual guide to help you determine which fats are beneficial, and which are harmful.
All foods containing fat have a mix of specific types of fats. Even healthy foods like chicken and nuts have small amounts of saturated fat, though much less than the amounts found in beef, cheese, and ice cream. Saturated fat is mainly found in animal foods, but a few plant foods are also high in saturated fats, such as coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.
- The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting less than 10 percent of calories each day from saturated fat.
- The American Heart Association goes even further, recommending limiting saturated fat to no more than 7 percent of calories.
- Cutting back on saturated fat will likely have no benefit, however, if people replace saturated fat with refined carbohydrates. Eating refined carbohydrates in place of saturated fat does lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, but it also lowers the “good” HDL cholesterol and increases triglycerides. The net effect is as bad for the heart as eating too much saturated fat.
In the United States, the biggest sources of saturated fat in the diet are
- Pizza and cheese
- Whole and reduced fat milk, butter and dairy desserts
- Meat products (sausage, bacon, beef, hamburgers)
- Cookies and other grain-based desserts
- A variety of mixed fast food dishes
Though decades of dietary advice suggested saturated fat was harmful, in recent years that idea has begun to evolve. Several studies suggest that eating diets high in saturated fat do not raise the risk of heart disease, with one report analyzing the findings of 21 studies that followed 350,000 people for up to 23 years.
- Investigators looked at the relationship between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Their controversial conclusion: “There is insufficient evidence from prospective epidemiologic studies to conclude that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD, stroke, or CVD.”
- A well-publicized 2014 study questioned the link between saturated fat and heart disease, but HSPH nutrition experts determined the paper to be seriously misleading. In order to set the record straight, Harvard School of Public Health convened a panel of nutrition experts and held a teach-in, “Saturated or not: Does type of fat matter?“
The overarching message is that cutting back on saturated fat can be good for health if people replace saturated fat with good fats, especially, polyunsaturated fats. Eating good fats in place of saturated fat lowers the “bad” LDL cholesterol, and it improves the ratio of total cholesterol to “good” HDL cholesterol, lowering the risk of heart disease.
Eating good fats in place of saturated fat can also help prevent insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. So while saturated fat may not be as harmful as once thought, evidence clearly shows that unsaturated fat remains the healthiest type of fat.