Trans Fat in Packaged Foods
Written by Gloria Tsang, RD
Published in March 2006
(HealthCastle.com) Since the mandatory labeling of trans fat took place on January 1, 2006, we received many emails from readers asking for margarine brand suggestion. It occurred to me that perhaps consumers associate trans fat with margarine and neglect other sources. In our previous article on trans fat, we often mentioned packaged food as one of the major sources of trans fat. However we did not list any food examples so today I set sail to my local grocery store for a trans-fat hunt and here is what I found.
A Trans-Fat Hunt - I'm in for a Surprise!
Upon arriving at the store, I proceeded directly to the margarine aisle. Not to my surprise, many brands of soft non-hydrogenated margarine now contain zero trans fat. It was happy news and I continued to the rest of the store. Little did I know that I would be stunned for the rest of my hunt. The FDA Nutrition Committee recommends less than 2 g of trans fat daily in a 2000 kcal diet. So bearing this in mind, I reminded myself not to over-react when I found products with trans fat. However, the biggest shocker was finding trans fat in some supposedly "healthier foods".
- Microwave Popcorn - Popcorn is supposed to be a health food as it's considered to be a member of the whole grain family. I was shocked to find many brands of butter-flavored microwave popcorn containing at least 5 g of trans fat per half bag. Some even have 7 g per half bag!
- Yogurt - Yogurt is a good source of protein and calcium. Yogurt with active live culture nurtures a healthy gut. At a first glance, one would not expect to find trans fat in yogurt but a few brands managed to put some in (unfortunately).
- Peanut Butter - peanuts are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (the good fats) as well as plant sterols which have all been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. Therefore it is definitely an oxymoron to find LDL-risen trans fat in some brands of LDL-lowering peanut butter.
Frozen convenient food is another big source of trans fat. Frozen pastry, cake, tart, rising pizza are just a few examples.
What about "Fully-Hydrogenated" oil?
Unlike partially hydrogenated oil, fully hydrogenated oil does not contain trans fat. Instead, it contains more saturated fat (primarily stearic acid). Stearic acid is immediately converted into oleic acid (a type of mono-unsaturated fatty acids) in our body and that's why stearic acid does not raise LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol).
Bottom Line: For the sake of your heart, minimize the intake of both saturated fats and trans fats. Choose wholesome fresh foods instead of packaged foods. The more convenient the product, the more likely it is to contain trans fat. The good news is - there are always trans-fat free alternatives out there. Therefore spend time investigating and comparing products by checking the Nutrition Facts label.
Please note that trans fat is also found in many fried foods such as chicken nuggets and french fries as the fast food chains often use vegetable oil containing trans fat to deep fry. Also don't forget about doughnuts for all of you doughnut fans out there. A single glazed doughnut from your favorite doughnut store can contain 4 g of trans fat and 3 g of saturated fat - that's shocking! Despite some stores having changed their frying oil, it is still advised to eat less fat anyway - less total fat in general means less trans and saturated fats!!!