Stay away from trans fats

Elizabeth S. Reames, Benedict, Linda F.  |  7/31/2008 2:07:22 AM

News You Can Use Release Distributed 07/30/08

Trans fats are in the news. And like saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, they raise low-density lipoprotein – LDL or “bad” – cholesterol levels in our bodies, which increase the risk of coronary heart disease, says Beth Reames, LSU AgCenter nutritionist.

“Coronary heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States today,” Reames said.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, more than 12.5 million Americans suffer from coronary heart disease, and more than 500,000 die each year.

Consumers can find trans fat listed on food labels under Nutrition Facts, directly under the line for saturated fat. Since 1993, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol be listed on the food label. Trans fat content has been required on food product labels since January 2006.

“Unsaturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, do not raise LDL cholesterol and are beneficial – when consumed in moderation,” Reames said.

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 coronary heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less that 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids and less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol, and keeping trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.

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 can often 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.

Food manufacturers are allowed to list amounts of trans fat with less than 0.5 gram as zero on the Nutrition Facts panel. This means the food contains very small amounts (less than 0.5 gram) of trans fat per serving. Therefore, consumers may see products that list 0 gram trans fat on the label, while the ingredient list on the label includes shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

Fat is a major source of energy for the body and aids in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, K and carotenoids. Both animal and plant-derived food products contain fat, and when eaten in moderation, fat contributes to proper growth, development and maintenance of good health. 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 said.

Some tips from the FDA to help you keep your consumption of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol low while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet include the following:

– Check labels to compare foods, and choose foods lower in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol.

– 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.

– Most fish are lower in saturated fat than meat. Some fish, such as mackerel, sardines and salmon, contain omega-3 fatty acids that may offer protection 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.

– 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.

– Substitute alternative fats that are higher in mono- and polyunsaturated fats like olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil and corn oil.

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Contact: Beth Reames at (225) 578-1425, or

Editor: Linda Foster Benedict at (225) 578-2937, or

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