Five things you need to know about trans fats

Trans fats are often found in fried foods, like doughnuts. Credit: Metro File
Doughnuts are known to contain trans fat.
Credit: Metro File

The FDA announced Thursday that partially hydrogenated oils, which are often found in trans fats, are not “generally recognized as safe.” The FDA added that cutting out trans fats can prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths each year. Scientists agree that there are no health benefits to artificial trans fats and that they increase the risk of heart disease.

Though the move means food companies will have to phase out the dangerous ingredient, which can be found in fried foods and snacks, the change won’t be immediate. Activist and blogger Vani Hari, also known as Food Babe, talked to Metro about what to look out for if you’re trying to avoid the artery-clogging substance.

1. Partially hydrogenated oils are not the only ingredients that contain trans fat: If you’re up on health news and food labels, you’ll know that partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fat. But monoglycerides and diglycerides also contain trans fat, despite the fact that the FDA classifies them as “emulsifiers.”

2. You might be surprised where you’ll find trans fats: They’re not just in chips and desserts. “Chipotle uses local and organic ingredients, but they still use trans fat in their burrito shells,” said Hari. “If you go to Chipotle, don’t get the burrito – get the salads.” Hari also added that it’s not just fast food places where you’ll find trans fats. Even upscale or independent restaurants use them to fry foods. Hari said she asks restaurants what oils they use before she digs in.

3. “Zero” doesn’t always mean zero when it comes to trans fats: A package might boast “0 g trans fat,” but all that means is that it has less than 0.5 g trans fat per serving. As Hari points out, many people have two or three servings when it comes to chips or cookies. If something has 0.4 g trans fat, for example, and you have three servings in one sitting, that’s 1.2 g trans fat, and if you eat other things with trans fat during the day, these “zeroes” can add up quickly.

4. Trans fats are great for food companies: They’re cheap and they prolong shelf life. “It allows processed food like cookies and crackers to stay crispy and crunchy – it increases the shelf life and profit for food companies,” said Hari.

5. Trans fat is the one thing Food Babe won’t touch: “It’s the one thing I will never put in my body, no matter how much I want a French fry or doughnut,” said Hari. That’s a strong statement coming from a health enthusiast and food activist, especially one who brought attention to the negative effects of artificial food dyes. But Hari said the fact that partially hydrogenated oils are genetically modified and are so strongly linked with heart disease keep her far away.

Hari said in the future, she’d like to see food companies use nutritious coconut oil or sustainably harvested palm oil as substitutes for partially hydrogenated soybean, corn and cottonseed oils.

Follow Andrea Park: @andreapark


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