The truth about trans fats

DALLAS (BP)--Checking the nutrition labels on food packaging is an important tool in determining the nutritional value of what we eat. But it's not always easy deciphering those charts with their fine print, percentages and abbreviations.

If you're talking about fats alone it gets confusing fast, with some fats being "good" and "bad," some saturated and unsaturated. Another type of fat we hear a lot about today is trans fat. Manufacturers and restaurants are touting the fact that their foods contain "zero trans fats," and some cities are even banning them.

WHAT IS TRANS FAT?

Essentially, trans fat is produced by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil in a process called hydrogenation. Food manufacturers use hydrogenation because it increases the shelf life of food, as well as helping the product maintain its flavor. Trans fat can be found naturally in some animal-based foods, although the amount is smaller than in food that has been made with hydrogenated oils.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, trans fats have been proven to raise "bad cholesterol" levels, increasing the risk for coronary heart disease, which is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. They also lower your "good cholesterol."

COMMON SOURCES OF TRANS FAT

Now that you know what trans fats actually are, where are they found? French fries, particularly those from fast food restaurants, often contain the highest amount of trans fat. Cake, cookies, crackers, pie, doughnuts, muffins, potato chips and shortenings also can have significant amounts of trans fat.

REDUCING TRANS FAT

While it isn't realistic to eliminate completely all trans fat from your diet, you can take steps to reduce your daily trans fat intake. The best place to start when selecting foods is to check the Nutrition Facts label, where the percentage of trans fat is listed next to the saturated fat amount.

It is important to note that saturated fat actually raises the risk for heart disease more than trans fat, so just because a food may contain zero trans fat, you still want to pay attention to the saturated fat amount.

Like most other things when it comes to pursuing a healthy lifestyle, reducing trans fat consumption is all about choices. If one of your daily favorite foods contains a percentage of trans fat, try to balance the rest of the day with food that contains little or no trans fat. Limiting higher cholesterol foods in favor of leaner meats (especially fish), fruits, vegetables, whole-grain bread and reduced fat dairy products are all steps in the right direction.


Tamara Quintana is a graduate of All Saints Episcopal Hospital School of Vocational Nursing and the director of the employee wellness program for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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