Elizabeth S. Reames | 4/19/2005 10:28:29 PM
The health risks of consuming trans fat are so evident that by January 2006 the fat will have to be listed on food labels, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.
Trans fat and its notorious partners – saturated fat and dietary cholesterol – raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol levels, which increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), Reames explains.
Fortunately, many food products already list trans fat on their labels, directly under the line for saturated fat on the Nutrition Facts panel.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, more than 12.5 million Americans suffer from CHD, and more than 500,000 die each year. This makes CHD one of the leading causes of death in the United States today. FDA has required that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol be listed on the food label since 1993.
"Identifying saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol on the food label gives consumers information to make heart-healthy food choices that help them reduce their risk of CHD," Reames says. She explains that the majority of trans fat is formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine.
Trans fat is made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats.
Trans fat often can be found in processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as vegetable shortenings, some margarines (especially margarines that are harder), crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods and baked goods. A small amount of trans fat is found naturally, primarily in some animal-based foods.
Unsaturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, do not raise LDL cholesterol and are beneficial when consumed in moderation.
Reames notes that fat is a major source of energy for the body and aids in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K and carotenoids, which generate vitamin A. Both animal and plant-derived food products contain fat.
"When eaten in moderation, fat is important for proper growth, development and maintenance of good health," the LSU AgCenter nutritionist says, adding, "As a food ingredient, fat provides taste, consistency and stability and helps give a feeling of being full."
Fats are an important source of calories and nutrients for infants and toddlers (up to 2 years of age), who have the highest energy needs per unit of body weight of any age group.
Reames recommends following FDA guidelines to help you keep your consumption of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol low while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet:
• Check the Nutrition Facts panel to compare foods and choose foods lower in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol.
• Choose alternative fats. Replace saturated and trans fats in your diet with mono- and polyunsaturated fats. These fats do not raise LDL (or "bad") cholesterol levels and have health benefits when eaten in moderation.
• Choose vegetable oils (except coconut and palm kernel oils) and soft margarines (liquid, tub or spray) more often because the amounts of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol are lower than the amounts in solid shortenings, hard margarines and animal fats, including butter.
• Eat fish, which is lower in saturated fat than meat. Some fish, such as mackerel, sardines and salmon, contain omega-3 fatty acids that help protect against heart disease.
• Choose lean meats, such as poultry (without skin, not fried), lean beef and pork (trim visible fat, not fried).
• Ask which fats are being used in the preparation of your food when eating or ordering out and request substitutions. Example: Instead of broiling in butter, ask for olive oil.
• Remember that fats are high in calories. All sources of fat contain 9 calories per gram, making fat the most concentrated source of calories. By comparison, carbohydrates and protein have only 4 calories per gram.
• Select alternative fats that are higher in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, like olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil and corn oil.
For information on related nutrition, family and consumer topics, visit the FCS Web site at http://www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/Extension/Departments/fcs/. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.