There is no getting around it. Trans fats, those hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils found in so many processed and fast foods, can kill you.
Estimates of deaths in the U.S. from coronary heart disease that can be attributed to trans fats range from 30,000 to 100,000 per year. The Nurses Health Study, which followed 120,000 women nurses since 1976 found that the risk of cardiovascular heart disease doubled for each 2 percent increase in trans fat calories consumed. Replacing just 2 percent of food energy from trans fat with non-trans unsaturated fats reduced the risk of cardiovascular heart disease by 43 percent.
Trans fats contribute to the increase in bad cholesterol and reduction of good cholesterol, which leads to coronary heart disease. New evidence suggests they may even damage your brain such as memory loss, Alzheimer’s, etc.
So how can you avoid trans fats in your diet?
First of all, avoid fast foods whenever possible. Though many restaurants (KFC, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and others) have done the right thing and vastly reduced the use of trans fats in frying and baking oil due to growing consumer awareness through advocacy groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, trans fats still are out there. KFC’s biscuits, at last look, still are baked using trans fats.
Eat smarter when you go to any restaurant, fast food or otherwise. For instance, those batter-dipped whole onion monstrosities you love so much at the steak house contain 18 grams of trans fats, plus a day’s worth of calories (2,100). Similarly, cheese fries with ranch dressing have 11 grams of trans fats. French fries typically contain from four to seven grams of trans fats. In general, avoid any fried foods in restaurants.
Ever noticed that at your favorite breakfast place, the toast comes out already “buttered?” It’s not really butter, but partially hydrogenated oil smeared on the toast. Ask for real butter instead. Really, it’s better for you. Trans fats are, by far, the most dangerous among the various fats you can ingest.
What about the grocery store? Well, we’re just going to have to read the labels when we shop for food, and we’re going to have to know what to look for. Despite the fact that a label may tout “zero grams trans fat,” the USDA currently allows manufacturers to claim this even if the product contains as much as half a gram of trans fats per serving. Eat four servings of products in a day with this much and you’ve reached what most nutritionists believe is a safe daily limit. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2 grams of trans fats per day.
Some foods don’t even try to masquerade as healthy. Frozen chicken pot pies, for instance, contain as much as six grams of trans fats in the dough. Microwave popcorn typically contains four to six grams per serving.
Until the USDA puts strict limits on trans fats (partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, in other words) in the production of processed foods, you’re just going to have to bite the bullet (might even be better for you than eating blindly) and read the labels with an informed eye.
Are there other, more proactive things you might do to reduce your risk of heart disease and brain shrinkage? Of course. We will cover some of these in our next blog.