It’s the news making headlines across the country: the Food & Drug Administration says no more to this harmful additive. Find out if it’s in some of your favorite foods and how our dietitian says you can avoid it.
It’s no secret that artificial trans fats have gotten a bad reputation over the past few years — most health experts advising a reduction or avoidance of foods that are saturated in them — for their impact on cardiovascular health. Now, the fat most often used to improve food taste and increase grocery-shelf life, will be required by food companies to be phased out of foods within the next three years, according to a new ruling by the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA says the move will reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.
According to Caitlin Griffin, Registered and Licensed Dietitian at Renown Health, trans fats increase LDL (bad) cholesterol while lowering levels of HDL (good) cholesterol by increasing inflammation and damaging blood vessels. “Some research has also found a possible link between trans fats and certain types of cancer such as breast and prostate,” she says.
Currently, however, if a product includes less than 0.5 grams of trans fats, food companies are allowed to say it has zero grams. So, if you want to omit trans fats from your diet you should avoid these foods commonly known to include the additive:
- Pastries and doughnuts
- Microwave popcorn
- Refrigerated dough including pie crusts, biscuits and frozen pizza crusts
- Fried foods
- Certain coffee creams
But do you know why these fats are harmful or what foods they’re in you might be eating? Caitlin recommends that consumers:
- Check the nutrition facts label for ‘trans fat’
- If listed, ensure the numbers read 0g, meaning zero grams
- Avoid products containing shortening, margarine and partially hydrogenated oil
Breakdown of the Trans Fats Ban
This isn’t the first time trans fats have been under fire by the FDA.
Back in 2006, the organization began requiring trans fats to be listed on nutrition labels. And in 2013, the FDA made the decision that trans fats no longer fall into the agency’s “generally recognized as safe” category which doesn’t require FDA review. And the numbers show it is already working: consumption of trans fats are down 78 percent from 2003 to 2012.
The current ruling will give food companies some time to make the switch, but after 2018 they’ll have to petition the FDA to include trans fats in their products.
Additionally, the FDA is not targeting the small amount of natural trans fats found in some meat and dairy products – they are too difficult to remove and are not considered a major public health threat on their own. But if you’re concerned, there are some easy things you can do.
“I encourage my patients to consume meat and dairy in moderation, like anything else,” Caitlin says. “Just choose leaner cuts of meat such as a tenderloin or sirloin beef, as well as low-fat or nonfat dairy, in order to control the amount of trans and saturated fat in your diet.”
The Other “Bad” Fat to Watch For
Of course, once trans fats are phased out that doesn’t mean only healthy fats remain. Saturated fat, which can also increase your risk of heart disease and stroke in large amounts, will remain in many foods you currently have in your fridge including:
- Dairy: butter, 2 percent and whole milk, cheese and cream
- Meat products: poultry with skin, red meats, sausage, bacon and salami
- Cooking fats: shortening, lard, and oils such as palm and coconut
“The acceptable amount of saturated fat is 7 to 10 percent of total calories,” says Caitlin. “An easy way to determine if something is high in saturated fat is to use the nutrition facts label. Choose foods with a DV (daily value) of five percent or less saturated fat per serving.”
The best way to avoid both trans and saturated fats?
- Avoid processed and fried foods
- Make your own baked goods using canola oil
Use more unsaturated fats such as:
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
And remember, a robust heart is not all about abstaining. Add healthy fats and some flavor to your diet with olives, nuts, avocado, seeds and fish too.