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Trans Fat
Photo: Linda DuBose
Every year we make new health resolutions. Sometimes we choose to cut down on sweets or sometimes we decide to eat more fruits and vegetables. This year why not take the challenge of reducing trans fat in your diet?

What is trans fat? Trans fat is made from polyunsaturated fats and oils that are liquid at room temperature. This process includes adding hydrogens to the fat structure, which makes the fat solid at room temperature. About 20 years ago, manufacturers started adding trans fat to our foods because it increases the shelf life of the product. Several processed foods such as crackers, cookies, and soups may contain this fat. It is also used to keep margarines solid at room temperature. Other foods containing trans fat include peanut butter, cake, pizza, and other processed or packaged foods. Fast foods such as French fries or chicken nuggets are other foods with trans fat.

On January 1, 2006, manufacturers were required to list trans fat on the label. If a food contained 0.5 grams or more per serving, it’s label must include trans fat. If a product contained less than 0.5 grams, the label would read 0 grams trans fat per serving. This can be confusing to consumers. A problem arises when a consumer eats multiple servings of a trans fat product. The amount can increase significantly.

Why be concerned about trans fat? Just as too much saturated or animal fats in our diet can increase our risk for heart disease, so can trans fat—but with a twist. Saturated fat can raise total cholesterol levels. Trans fat not only raises total cholesterol levels; it depletes our good cholesterol levels, which further increases our risk of heart disease. In addition, both saturated fats and trans fat can clog arteries.

Future Generations

Health professionals are concerned with how much we get in our diets. This is especially true among kids as young as 12-months-old who may start eating French fries and other high trans fatty foods. These kids, our future generation, may end up facing heart disease and stroke at a much earlier age.

Scientists are learning even more about trans fat. Animal studies have reported that it can increase fat levels around the stomach. A recent study reported that monkeys who ate a Western diet containing 35 percent fat gained weight over a six-year period. One half of these monkeys who consumed unsaturated fat increased their weight by 1.8 percent, but the other half who ate trans fat gained 7.2 percent.* Translate this information to humans and it may mean trans fat may play a role in America’s increased rate of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

How do we avoid trans fat? Read food labels and avoid foods with trans fat. The best way to tell whether or not a product contains trans fat is to examine the list of ingredients. If the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” fats or vegetable oils appear in the list of ingredients, then the product contains trans fat. Also, ingredients are listed according to the amount—the largest being first. If trans fats are listed as the second, third, or fourth ingredients, chances are the product contains a significant amount of trans fat.

When eating out, ask if foods contain trans fat or hydrogenated fat. Be aware of the trans fat content of fast foods. Ask your server to provide you with the amount in each of your favorite foods. Then reduce or eliminate these foods from your diet.

Eat meals rich in natural foods rather than processed foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts are the best foods to include in your diet. Minimize or avoid foods containing trans fat. Choose wisely to keep healthy.

*DeNoon, Daniel. Eat Trans Fat, Get Big Belly. WebMD Medical News.  webmd.com. Accessed July 10, 2006.

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By Pamela A. Williams. Reprinted with persmission from Message Magazine, January/February 2007. Copyright © 2007 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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