Trans fat foods

Trans fat foods you need to avoid

Pawel Malczewski
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Short summary

Industrially generated trans fats (iTFAs) are still being widely used in some countries. Only countries with a total ban on trans fats and partially hydrogenated fatty acids seem to be free from these harmful substances.

Find out how to reduce your chances of consuming trans fats and which foods you need to avoid, especially if you live in a country where a total ban on Trans Fat foods is not enforced.

Explanation

A major health concern are trans fats that are created from processed .

Stir frying and deep frying foods in high temperatures at home, may also create trans fats (read more..).
However, they are in small amounts that fall below the recommended daily limit of 1% of total daily energy requirements. (1)World Health Organization Europe. Eliminating trans fats in Europe. A Policy Brief. Available here.

Trans fats can be easily avoided, if we familiarize ourselves with the foods that usually contain them.

Following Denmark’s example, some countries, such as Norway, Iceland, Hungary, Austria and Switzerland, introduced a total ban on these substances.  Other countries, such as the U.S.A., Canada, Argentina, Costa Rica, South Korea, Israel and Sweden (2)Bulletin of World Health Organization. April 2013: Evidence piles up for banning trans fats. April 2013. Available here. (3)State of Israel. Ministry of Health. Mandatory Labeling of Trans Fats on Food Packaging has Come into Force. Available here., have already started to implement strategies to reduce trans fats, by totally or partially banning trans fats and partially hydrogenated fatty acids. (read more..)

Bans on trans fats and partially hydrogenated fatty acids (PHOs) are being introduced, labeling laws are being implemented and many manufactures reduced the usage of PHOs at their own initiative and to meet the growing demand for healthy foods.

However, we are not totally safe from these harmful substances, especially in countries which don’t impose any legal restrictions. I encourage you to check the legislation regarding iTFAs and PHOs in the country you live in.

In other countries, current nutritional labeling does not guarantee that the food doesn’t contain trans fatty acids in safe amounts. This is due to legislative loopholes and to ways that producers find of tricking customers by clever labeling strategies that don’t disclose clear information on trans fats. (read more..)

The following is a list of products that may contain trans fats depending on what ingredients were used by the manufacturer. Unless there are strict bans on these substances, as in Denmark and soon in the U.S.A., or the labels clearly state that no trans fats or PHOs were used, these products might be high in trans fats and, therefore, their intake needs to be restricted.

List of foods where trans fats may be high:

–    baked goods such as pies, muffins, donuts, cupcakes and cakes
–    breakfast cereal
–    cake frostings
–    cake pancake and waffle mixes
–    coffee creamer
–    cookies/biscuits
–    corn and potato chips
–    crackers
–    deep fried foods in high temperatures in reheated oils
–    fast food (especially deep fried foods and other foods that use fat)
–    frozen burritos
–    frozen pastries
–    frozen pizza
–    frozen snack foods
–    hot chocolate mixes
–    instant mashed potatoes
–    margarines
–    noodle soups in a cup
–    pasta mixes
–    peanut butter
–    popcorn (microwave and fast food)
–    sauce mixes
–    shortening
–    stir fried foods
–    taco shells

General tips to reduce trans fats in your diet

  • Avoid deep fried foods from fast food restaurants

    Since fried foods are not packaged foods, they don’t come with nutrition labels. Therefore, there is no way of knowing what fat was used for frying these foods. In countries with no total ban on iTFAs, PHOs are often used due to their low cost and guaranteed stability in high temperature frying. Because these oils are more stable than other fats, they are usually reheated more times than other fats.  This generates extra trans fats in the process.

    Although the amounts are relatively small, they can add to your daily trans fat intake, depending on the individual’s diet.The fried foods with the highest amounts of iTFAs are French fries, hash browns, fried chicken, fried fruit and savory pies.

    As a general rule, you should avoid deep fried products from fast food outlets.

    In restaurants, always ask if the oils are freshly replaced every day. However, you need to be aware that unless you are paying top dollar for a meal in a restaurant, your food will most likely be prepared with low-cost ingredients and that generally means cheap oils. (read more..)

  • Avoid margarines and shortening

    In some countries, margarines and shortenings are still being produced with partially hydrogenated oils and contain high amounts of trans fats.

    Even with the current labeling legislation, in the United States you can easily go over the recommended TFA amount, if you do a lot of baking with margarines or shortening or eat a lot of commercial baked products which have unknown concentrations of TFAs.

    Countries with strict bans on trans fats are not in danger of overconsuming trans fats from margarines and shortenings.  However, since these laws are not applied universally, it is safer to verify it in individual countries.

    Thankfully, in the United States, PHOs will be phased out in 2018, which will ensure low levels of trans fats. However, if you live in a country where there is no ban in place or you are not sure and don’t want to take any chances, the best advice is to swap margarines and shortenings for healthier fats.

    This not only will help you to avoid trans fats, but also bad omega-6 fatty acids and chemicals, that are generated during the production process.

You can choose:

– Spreads: organic butter, avocados, peanut and other nut butters;

– Frying: coconut or avocado oil (stable in high temperatures);

– Dressings, sauces: extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil and walnut oil.

  • Eat less processed foods

    Many processed foods, such as baked products, pastry, frosting, cakes cookies, pies, various snacks, non-dairy creamers, frozen pizzas, donuts, cake mixes and frostings, commercial baking mixes, biscuits/cookies from the supermarket shelves and some ice-creams, contain trans fats.

    If you chose to eat these foods, make them at home from basic ingredients (not the ready-made, industrial cake mixes) that don’t contain partially hydrogenated fats.

    Please note that, many brands of commercial peanut butter contain partially hydrogenated oils to stabilize the fats. Try to make peanut butter at home using a good blender. However, if you decide to buy a commercial peanut butter, look for an all-natural, organic one.

  • Avoid non-dairy creamers
    Many brands of non-dairy creamers are high in fat, which in turn is high in partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Choose the non-dairy creamers that don’t contain soybean oils, or switch to more natural substitutes, such as cow milk (lactose free if needed), nut milk or rice milk. You can make nut or rice milk easily at home from numerous recipes that are available online.
  • Butter flavored Popcorn

    Available in cinemas, fast food outlets or on the shelves of supermarkets, these popcorns use partially hydrogenated oils and are full of trans fats. This is actually one of the most popular foods with the highest trans fat contents. It is best if you try making popcorn yourself at home. It is very easy to make, tastier, is cheaper than buying an industrial type full of trans fats and artificial flavoring and it is healthier.

    Please also note that the lining of the microwavable popcorn bag contains a dangerous chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA is present in microwave popcorn bag paper at amounts as high as 300 µg kg-1. (4)Begley TH, White KW, Twaroski ML, Walker RA. Perfluorochemicals: Potential sources of and migration from food packaging. Food additives and contaminants. Pages 1023-1031 ” Published online: 16 Feb 2007. Available here.

IMPORTANT NOTE: beware of the replacement fats. While trans fats are being phased out, other man-made fats may be replacing them.  This is the case with inter-esterified fats. Inter-esterification is another process which, although it doesn’t produce trans fats, alters the molecular structure of fats. Its’ health consequences are not yet very well-studied.

Conclusion

If you live in a country that applies a total ban on iTFAs or PHOs, you are safe. Otherwise, it is advisable to familiarize yourself with where iTFAs come from, learn the labeling rules in your country and avoid certain processed products described above which are likely to contain trans fats.

References   [ + ]

1. World Health Organization Europe. Eliminating trans fats in Europe. A Policy Brief. Available here.
2. Bulletin of World Health Organization. April 2013: Evidence piles up for banning trans fats. April 2013. Available here.
3. State of Israel. Ministry of Health. Mandatory Labeling of Trans Fats on Food Packaging has Come into Force. Available here.
4. Begley TH, White KW, Twaroski ML, Walker RA. Perfluorochemicals: Potential sources of and migration from food packaging. Food additives and contaminants. Pages 1023-1031 ” Published online: 16 Feb 2007. Available here.