Trans fat is one of the most unhealthy fats, found in many processed foods, and can be fatal to your health. Finding foods with no trans fat can be a hassle if you don’t know where to look. Luckily for you I have created this blog so that you may find foods with no trans fat easily and quickly.
Food With No Trans Fat
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.”
Foods With Trans Fat
- Fried Foods
Fried foods — like french fries, mozzarella sticks, and fish sticks — may have trans fat, depending on what type of oil they have been cooked in. You should enjoy them in moderation, if at all.
Margarine is sometimes marketed as a healthier alternative to butter, but some kinds of margarine actually contain up to two grams of trans fat per tablespoon. However, there are more and more options on the market that use natural alternatives to make the product trans-fat-free.
- Non-Dairy Coffee Creamer
It’s possible that your daily dose of caffeine has also been giving you a daily dose of trans fats. Many non-dairy coffee creamers use oils that contain trans fats. Make sure to look at the list of ingredients to find out what type of oil it contains.
- Meat & Dairy
Trans fat occurs naturally in meat and dairy products. However, scientists need to do more research on these naturally occurring trans fats enough to know if they’re as harmful as artificial ones. Many believe it is still a good idea to cut down on possible intake by eating lean meats and low-fat dairy products.
- Naturally Occurring Oils
Instead of eating products with artificial oils, try natural ones like olive oil, corn oil, or canola oil to avoid trans fat.
- Plant-Based Meat Alternatives
Eating a few vegetarian meals per week can help you avoid trans fats. These days, meat alternatives are much more than just tofu. Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are working to make plant-based meats taste just like the real thing.
- Plant-Based Dairy Alternatives
Instead of traditional non-dairy coffee creamer for your morning cup of joe, try some oat milk or almond milk creamer. These options have zero trans fats and some brands have formulated special “barista” products centered around making your coffee amazing.
- Foods with Monounsaturated Fat and Omega 3 Fatty Acids
When you replace trans-fat foods, make sure you don’t end up eating too many saturated fats: they’re not as bad for you as trans fats, but should still be consumed in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends that saturated fats make up no more than 6% of your calorie intake.
Eating a Diet Low in Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, and Cholesterol
There are four main kinds of fats in the foods we eat: saturated, unsaturated, cholesterol, and trans fats. Saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol in foods can raise blood cholesterol levels. A high level of cholesterol in the blood is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease, which can lead to a heart attack and stroke. A balanced diet can help to reduce these risks.
Most foods often have more than one type of fat. Generally, foods that have mostly saturated fat are thicker, like butter, lard, or cream. Those that are mostly unsaturated are thinner, like oils. A heart healthy diet limits saturated fats and trans fats.
The body needs saturated fatty acids, but most eat and drink more than we need. Some foods high in saturated fat are:
- Whole milk
- Ice cream
- Whole-milk cheeses
- Meats like beef, poultry with skin, or lamb
Saturated fatty acids are also found in oils like coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and palm. Oils high in saturated fats will be semi-solid at room temperature.
Many snack foods and fried foods have a lot of saturated fat. Check the Nutrition Facts label to find out how much is in a food. Look for oils listed above in the ingredient list.
Most people do no need to completely avoid these foods. However, they should be eaten in smaller portions or as occasional treats. Your goal should be to get fewer than 10% of your calories per day from saturated fats. There may also be low-fat versions of these foods. Look for lower fat dairy or lean cuts of meat.
Add naturally lower-fat foods into your regular diet. For example, have fruit and gingersnaps for dessert instead of ice cream. Try eating fish and vegetarian-based dinners a few times a week in place of meat.
Trans fats are made through a process called hydrogenation. This process takes a vegetable oil, which is naturally high in unsaturated fatty acids, and adds hydrogen molecules. This makes it more solid. They are linked to higher bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol, and higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Trans fats are cheap and can make food taste good and add texture. They are used in many processed snack foods. Foods that may contain trans fats include:
- French fries
- Fried onion rings
Look in your pantry and check for trans fats listed on the Nutrition Facts food label. You may also see hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil listed as ingredients. This means the food contains trans fat and should be avoided if possible.
Cholesterol is found only in animal foods. Our bodies need some cholesterol, but we often take in more than we need. Cholesterol that we eat may play a much smaller role in blood cholesterol levels than we used to think. It also has less effect than saturated and trans fats do. Still, you should be aware of how much cholesterol is in your diet. Your doctor may also ask you to limit cholesterol if you have certain health issues.
Healthier Fat Options
You can feel good about eating unsaturated fats in the right amounts. They still have as many calories as saturated fats, so portion sizes do matter. There are two types of unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Many familiar foods contain polyunsaturated fats. Some of these are:
- Some oils, like safflower, sesame, or soy
- Some fish, like salmon, mackerel, or trout
- Some nuts and seeds, like walnuts and sunflower seeds
Monounsaturated fats are similar and can also be used instead of less healthy fats. You will find them in olive, canola, peanut, and sesame oils, in many seeds, and in avocados. Some foods contain both types of fats. Change takes time, so go slowly and make small tweaks to get started. Think about switching out some snacks or saturated fats with unsaturated choices such as:
- Mix nuts, seeds, dry cereal, and dried fruit for a snack mix.
- Use mashed avocado as a sandwich or bagel spread.
- Saute vegetables, tofu, and peanuts in sesame seed oil
- Bake pecans or walnuts into breads, pancakes, and muffins.
- Use an oil sprayer for your cooking oils; spray meats and vegetables and sprinkle with herbs before cooking.
- Coat salmon or tuna steaks in sesame oil and sesame seeds before broiling.
Butter vs. Margarine
Since both the saturated fat in butter and the trans fat in margarine can raise cholesterol levels, which is the best one to eat? There is no clear answer to this question. Remember that softer is better when choosing your spread. Whipped butter has less saturated fat than regular solid butter. Also, soft margarine in a tub has less unhealthy fat. Consider using an oil-based spread (like olive oil) instead of using butter or margarine.
You can also make easy changes when cooking or baking. Try liquid vegetable oils like canola, safflower, soybean, or olive instead of butter or margarine. Remember that whatever you choose, make sure that you limit the amount of fat you are adding to your food.
13 trans fat foods to remove from your diet!
Trans fats are a nutrition no-no. Yet they’re in demand for many and varied quality reasons. For instance, they make food taste crisp and crunchy, they are more stable so food lasts longer on the shelves, and they cost less.
However, they’re a hazard for your heart and are now thought to be a trigger for inflammation and metabolic syndrome. So where are they and how do you avoid them? Here are my top 13 worst offenders to steer clear of.
First the good news.
Many food manufacturers and fast-food chains have removed or reduced trans fat content.
The Monitoring Round Table run by the Australian government has worked in partnership with food companies and fast food operators to get trans fats out of the food supply.
It produced two reports in 2007 and in 2009 with good improvements.
Now the bad news.
These fats still lurk in many foods. They’re the industrial trans fatty acids. The more junk food and deep-fried rubbish you eat, the more you’ll consume. So avoid these and you’ll avoid most trans fats – along with a heap of salt, added sugar and refined starches.
How are trans fats formed?
There are two ways in which trans fats are created:
Naturally: They are made by bacteria that live in the forestomach (or rumen) of cattle, sheep, goats and deer. This means that they occur naturally in meats such as beef, lamb, goat and venison, as well as dairy products that come from these animals such as milk, cheese, butter and cream. There’s little evidence against these but it’s good to know they exist.
Industrially: They are formed when fats and oils are hydrogenated or deodorised. During hydrogenation, liquid vegetable oils are hydrogenated (hydrogen is bubbled through them in the presence of a catalyst) to transform them into solid and semi-solid fats. This process changes the molecular structure of the fatty acids which results in a portion – from 30 to 60 per cent – changing to the trans form. Trans fats are the chemical opposite of the usual cis form – see here for more.
Where do you find trans fats?
For centuries, human beings have been consuming them in small amounts from butter, milk, beef and lamb. So the consumption of trans fats is not new. Think everything from a glass of milk to a pot of dripping under the sink. The good news is that there is no evidence that the natural forms of trans fat is dangerous. However, the manufactured forms of trans fats are a different story.
Back to the 70s
Way back in the 1970s, animal fats such as butter, pork lard and beef tallow were accused of contributing to heart disease and cancer, thanks to their saturated fat content. To address this health scare, manufacturers then switched to vegetable oils which were perceived as healthy because they contained little saturated fats. However, manufacturers had to find a way to make them solid to help with texture, spreadability, crispness and shelf life. If you want potato fries without tallow or a Danish pastry without butter or baker’s fat, you’ve got to somehow solidify the oil! Hydrogenation of fats made this possible.
Most animal fats like butter naturally contain around 3 per cent of their total fat as trans fat. If you compare this to a hydrogenated commercial shortening which is used in baking, you will be alarmed to find that the shortening contains a high 30 per cent as trans. That’s 10 times more than that naturally occurring in animal fats – and that’s why health professionals are worried about trans fats.
My top 13 worst food for trans fats
Manufactured foods that you and I would call “junk foods” are the foods most likely to contain high levels of trans fats. So eat less of these (listed below) and you’ll automatically reduce your intake:
- Dripping and tallow from lamb or beef
- Movie popcorn – Popcorn in itself is a healthy snack and sports a serving of whole grains to boot. But when you pour on the buttery toppings, there’s no telling what you’re really adding. Movie popcorn is the worst as it’s coated in solid coconut fat. Just the smell of it when you enter a shopping mall should warn you.
- Blended vegetable oil – Doesn’t matter whether it’s mono- or polyunsaturated, this cheap supermarket oil has trans fats produced during the refining and heating stages.
- Solid cooking margarines (shortening) e.g. Fairy, Frymaster, Crisco
- Fried salty snack foods such as potato crisps and corn chips
- Crackers, biscuits and cookies
- Doughnuts, particularly iced
- Baked meaty goods such as sausage rolls and meat pies (it’s in the pastry)
- Any deep-fried fast food items such as French fries, chips, wedges, battered fish and nuggets. These foods have been deep-fried in partially hydrogenated oils unless they tell you otherwise (sometimes they advertise they cook in cottonseed oil).
- Frozen foods such as spring rolls, crumbed chicken and fish fingers
- Pastries and pies like Danish pastries, croissants, snails and apple pies
- Packet cake mixes
- Non-dairy coffee whiteners – For coffee lovers, non-dairy creamers can become an integral part of your morning. Over time, however, they can also add a considerable amount of trans fat to your diet. To determine whether your non-dairy creamer contains trans fat, simply check the ingredient listing for “partially hydrogenated oils.” Nestlé who make the market leader Coffee Mate now declare that they’ve removed partially hydrogenated oils from the ingredients. Read more about it here.
Are trans fats on the label?
At present, manufacturers are required to list ONLY the total fat and saturated fat – not the trans fat. But if a claim is made such as ‘No trans fat’ or ‘No cholesterol’, then the amount of trans fat has to be listed on the nutrition information panel at the back. Almost all margarines say this.
Companies are allowed to round down and put “0 grams” on the Nutrition Panel if their product has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
5 easy steps to avoid trans fats
To reduce your consumption of trans fats follow these handy hints:
- Where possible, use oils such as olive and sunflower oils, instead of margarine and butter. For instance when baking a cake, look for a recipe that works well using oil instead of solid fats – banana or carrot cake work well.
- Choose a soft spread over a hard margarine (cooking margarine) or butter. Most spreads today are made with less than 1 per cent trans fat.
- Avoid buying commercial cakes, slices, biscuits, muffins, quiches and pies. Instead bake these at home using soft margarine or occasionally unsalted butter.
- Avoid bought pastry, including shortcrust and puff.
- Avoid deep-fried fast food unless you know a low-trans oil has been used (McDonalds has switched to a low trans canola-based oil which is a good step). In any case, these foods are not healthy take-aways and you shouldn’t eat them regularly.