The FDA actually FINALLY made a final call regarding trans fat in Sept 2017: FDA update from 9/29/17
FDA update from 2015 – “trans fat” has officially been banned by the FDA (after they allowed it in foods for decades, harumph). But you should still avoid fake fats, including anything “hydrogenated” or “interesterified.” That scary word is the “new” man-made fat replacing trans fats in many products. Yuck. Trans fats are technically only the “partially hydrogenated” ones, but I don’t trust hydrogenation with my food at all…
Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve identified a group of Super Foods that are all monounsaturated fats: avocados, olive oil, and peanut butter. It’s pretty widely accepted that these are “healthy fats.” However, for your mission this time, I want to start a journey of getting the bad fats out of your diet.
Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to learn how to find trans fats in your cupboards. Bonus points for starting to root them out of your life!
If you’re already a trans-fat-free household, focus this week on finding new ways to include monounsaturated fats from foods like olive oil, avocado, and peanut butter in your diet.
Certainly, many of you don’t really buy food with labels but make your own and focus on real meats, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. However, especially if you have children, you’re going to be presented with packaged food treats. Unless you swear off everything in a bag or a box, you’re going to want to learn to watch out for these particular evils so you can decide if a food is an acceptable compromise at a party or a never-gonna-let-it-pass-the-lips-of-MY-child kind of thing.
Let’s talk about fake fats – those created in labs by scientists instead of found in the earth. Food science is always “improving” and more are coming out, but trans fats have been the banner example of this trend.
Approved by the FDA for decades, trans fats are now (finally) banned in the U.S., but you still see them in foods because the FDA is allowing manufacturers an absurd amount of time to figure out how to remove them. 🙁 It’s worth learning about them at least to understand our history with fake fats – I will apply all of this to all the new fake fats and regard them with skepticism and avoidance after trans fats showed us how dangerous man-made fats can be (and how sneaky they are to get into our food when they’re not safe)!
What is a Trans Fat?
Trans fats are created when a liquid oil is made into a solid oil by a process called “hydrogenation”. You can find the science behind the change here, but without going into too much, hydrogenation changes the molecular structure of the fat. It breaks bonds and moves an atom, which starts to sound kind of sci-fi and not something I want to eat. I like to eat things that grow in the ground or on a farm, personally! I trust that kind of real food. If you really want to be grossed out, read a cool detailed description of the hydrogenation process at the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Trans fats were created 50 or 60 years ago for a couple reasons:
- Longer shelf life
- Inexpensive solid fats for baking
- Healthier than butter and lard (they THOUGHT back then!)
Why Trans Fats are Bad for You
“Trans fats cause significant and serious lowering of HDL (good) cholesterol and a significant and serious increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol; make the arteries more rigid; cause major clogging of arteries; cause insulin resistance; cause or contribute to type 2 diabetes; and cause or contribute to other serious health problems.” (From Ban Trans Fats, a website worth visiting)
Because trans fats are man-made, the body doesn’t recognize them and doesn’t really know what to do with them. They get stored (stored fat, anyone?). They attack the arteries (arterial plaque sound like fun?). They are the worst kind of fat you can eat.
Controversial Fat Information Overload
There is a ton of controversy about good fats/bad fats out there. You can find conflicting research and opinions that will boggle your mind as you try to figure out whether you should eat butter, canola oil, vegetable spreads, etc. There is one fat that everyone – even the US government – can agree on, however: trans fats. They’re nasty little buggers, and they’re slowly killing our country via heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and more.
How Much Trans Fat is Safe?
None. Good recommendations say don’t eat it, ever. Mediocre recommendations say a few grams a day or to keep it “as low as possible” (FDA, 2005). Some countries (Denmark) and even U.S. cities (New York City and others) have totally banned trans fats in public eateries. (Read this article for more fascinating facts.)
How to Find a Trans Fat on an Ingredient Label
In 2006, the FDA began requiring trans fat to be included in the nutrition facts on food packages. You would think, then, that you’d find the amount of trans fat listed on the label. However, there’s a nasty loophole that could trick you into eating more than a few grams of trans fat without blinking an eye.
The FDA allowed food manufacturers to list “0g Trans Fat” on the label if there is .49g or less in a serving. The companies then manipulated the serving size or simply reduce, instead of eliminating, the amount of trans fat in their foods, and still trick consumers with the “0g Trans Fat” label. This is a prime example of how we must learn from history, in my opinion.
Here’s what you really need to look for:
If you see any of those words in the ingredients list, your item has trans fat in it, regardless of the number on the nutrition facts label.
This is obviously a lot more work than checking the nutrition facts for a number. No fair, but necessary. Heart disease is a lot of work, too! You’ll learn to scan ingredients quickly for the evil words with a little practice.
Is Partially Hydrogenated Oil Safer than Fully Hydrogenated?
No. Trans fat is trans fat. If you see the word hydrogenated, stay away from it!
Places Trans Fats Could Sneak Into Your House (Eek!)
- Tortillas (definitely the hardest one – it’s really difficult to find tortillas, even expensive ones that I don’t want to buy anyway, that don’t have trans fat. One corn tortilla I found with no hydrogenated oil had parabens in them, a dangerous compound most often found in personal products like shampoo. Yuck.)
- Graham Crackers and Saltine Crackers
- Refried Beans
- Shortening for baking (until recently)
- Cake Mixes and Frosting
- Brownie Mixes
- Eating out…this is where I really rely on the 80/20 rule and the Promise of my Meal Blessing! I ask enough questions about where the fish is from and if the butter is real or fake that I can’t handle asking about all the ingredients all the time! (This is our favorite seasoned fish recipe.)
- Are there others? I hope not, but probably…
Random True Story: The last time we were out to eat, I asked the waitress if she knew where the salmon was from. She disdainfully said she “could” ask the cooks, but they probably didn’t know either. I glowingly replied, “Yes, thank you, I’d really like that.” She came back to assure me that “all the salmon is farmed,” and seemed a bit disgusted that that wasn’t the answer I was looking for. When I ordered my potato (restaurant-style baked potatoes are my weakness!!!) with my Tilapia, I asked for butter, no sour cream, and almost as an afterthought asked, “Is it real butter?” She visibly rolled her eyes, said, “It’s not real butter. NObody uses real butter anymore,” and walked away. I kid you not! I turned to my husband and quipped, “Then why do they call it “butter” on the menu?” Just to make sure her tip remained painfully low, she also treated it like it was my mother-in-law’s fault when she was served a baked potato after having ordered steamed broccoli. When the mistake was politely pointed out, the waitress flipped open her order pad in a huff as if to say, “You probably ordered the wrong thing, let me check!” Gee-zooey! You can’t get real butter or real service sometimes!
A few Substitution Ideas (if you’re ready for step two)
- Tortillas – so hard to find them without trans fat without costing an arm and a leg! I make homemade tortillas now.
- Check labels on pretzels and snacks – they don’t ALL have hydrogenated oils – sourdough pretzels are usually safe!
- Make your own graham crackers or thin wheat crackers
- Check refried bean labels, too. Organic store brand around here just has beans and peppers in it. Or make your own Homemade Refried Beans.
- Get rid of the shortening! I just use butter or coconut oil and have liked the results so far! There are “trans-fat-free” shortenings, but I haven’t tried them or looked into how they’re made.
Things like Hamburger Helper are full of trans fat, and when we ran out, I didn’t buy any more. My husband and son were bummed, though, because that was their “boy night” meal that they made together. It took some experimenting, but I finally found a Husband-approved Real Food Hamburger Helper recipe!
Every real food cook needs some basic resources that everyone recognizes.
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Want to know how butter and margarine stack up vs. “heart healthy” spreads? Ready to accept a mission to switch to butter? Join us all this season for A Fat Full Fall at Kitchen Stewardship.
Check out these super foods and their health benefits:
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