Which Foods Contain Trans Fats?

fried foods
Nettedotca

Trans fats are a type of fat found in some foods. They can be artificially added or naturally occurring. Natural trans fats are found in very small amounts in certain animal products. On the other hand, artificially added trans fats are formed due to a chemical reaction and are included in a variety of food products during the manufacturing process.

There are studies that suggest that both types of trans fats may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease by increasing your LDL cholesterol and lowering your HDL cholesterol; however the studies examining heart disease risk with naturally occurring trans fats is conflicting.

There is also some evidence that artificial trans fats may induce inflammation, which may also contribute to cardiovascular disease.  Because of this, trans fats should be limited in your diet.

How Are Trans Fats Formed?

Trans fats can be artificially formed through a chemical process called hydrogenation, which bombards an unsaturated fatty acid with hydrogen molecules and results in the formation of hydrogens on opposite sides of a double bond in their structure. Inducing the formation of trans fats aids in extending the shelf-life of certain foods. It also helps some fats become more solid at room temperature and makes some foods more palatable.

Which Foods Contain Trans Fats?

Although meat and dairy products may contain a tiny amount of naturally occurring trans fats, artificially-added trans fats are of most concern due to their presence and high content in some foods. These trans fats are most commonly introduced into foods through partially hydrogenated oils (sometimes referred to as PHOs) during the manufacturing process.

  The following foods may be made with partially hydrogenated oils and should be avoided, due to their ability to raise cholesterol and your risk of heart disease:

  • Fast foods – including tater tots, and French fries
  • Some spreads – such as margarine spreads or peanut butter
  • Some snack foods – such as chips, crackers, and cookies
  • Fried foods – including fried chicken, onion rings, and nuggets
  • Nondairy creamer
  • Pre-prepared cake frostings
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Commercially pre-prepared products, such as pie crusts, pizza dough, and cookie dough
  • Some pastries, donuts and pies

Because of the risk that artificial trans fats pose in increasing the risk of heart disease, the FDA began requiring food manufacturers to list the amount of trans fats per serving on the food package labeling in 2006.

In 2013, the FDA declared artificial trans fats as “generally not recognized as safe” due to studies linking high trans fat consumption with cardiovascular disease. After further investigation on the effect of artificial trans fats in foods, the FDA ruled in June 2015 that food manufacturers needed to find alternative measures in preparing their processed foods that would eliminate the use of trans fats during the preparation process. Food manufacturers have three years to develop ways to manufacture their foods without trans fats, or they can ask the FDA to use trans fats in specific cases.

Some food manufacturers, restaurants, and regions of the United States have already banned the use of trans fats in foods.

How Can I Reduce the Amount of Trans Fats in My Diet?

The National Cholesterol Education Program and the American Heart Association recommend limiting – and even avoiding – the consumption of trans fats in a healthy diet. Until all food products are completely free of trans fats, there are ways you can reduce the amount of trans fats consumed in your lipid-lowering diet, including:

  • Checking the nutrition label on the back of your food package. This should list the amount of trans fats per serving in the food product. However, if the amount of trans fats per serving is less than 0.5 mg, food manufacturers may not specifically list trans fat content on the package.
  • Looking for “partially hydrogenated oils” in the ingredients list. This will usually be displayed on the bottom with the other ingredients of the food product.
  • Limit the amount of the foods you consume from the list above. Even though there is a move to remove all artificial trans fats from food products, foods like pastries, fast foods, fried foods, and vegetable shortening are still high in calories and saturated fat – both of which can affect your lipid levels.

Sources:

Functional roles of fatty acids and their effects on human health. J Parenter Enteral Nutr 2015;39:18S-32S.

Food and Drug Administration.Final Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils: http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm449162.htm. Accessed 24 September 2015.

Whitney EN and SR Rolfes. Understanding Nutrition, 14ed. Wadsworth Publishing 2015.

Continue Reading