- What Is a Trans Fat?
- Why Trans Fats Are Bad for You
- Controversial Fat Information Overload
- How Much Trans Fat Is Safe?
- How to Find a Trans Fat on an Ingredient Label
- Places Trans Fats Could Sneak Into Your House (Eek!)
- A Few Substitution Ideas (if you’re ready for step two)
- Need More Baby Steps?
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…
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.
If you have a desire to cook real food more fluently or gain confidence in remaking some of your own processed style recipes using only whole foods, you’ll love the bestselling eBook Better Than a Box.
With 60 ready-to-go recipes and 100 pages of kitchen tutorials, your family will be singing your real food praises in no time. Click HERE for more info on the premium package, including the Kindle version.
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:
Need More Baby Steps?
Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.
That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.
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17 thoughts on “Monday Mission: Search Out Trans Fats”
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According to the Mayo Clinic website (and other reliable sites), fully hydrogenated oils are NOT trans fat, only partially hydrogenated oils. If the label doesn’t distinguish between “fully” or “partially” then it probably contains both and you want to avoid it.
Great post!! I’ve been using coconut oil, butter, and olive oil exclusively for awhile. Unfortunately, sometimes when my MIL comes down to visit us, she brings margarine (sp?), and I want to scream every single time. Thanks for letting us know just because it says, “No trans fat” does not mean it’s true. 🙁
Here in Canada, even percentage points of trans fats must be on our nutrition labels. Sad to see that it can be circumvented in the states. :\
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Do you have any recommendation for using a cast iron skillet? I currently am using Crisco to rub oil on the inside of the skillet. The Crisco label says zero grams of trans fat, but the ingredients use hydrogenated palm oil and such. Is there a better alternative?
Crisco says “no trans fat?????” What is labeling coming to. That’s crazy.
You can use any oil to season your cast iron. I use virgin olive oil because it’s easy, and also coconut oil, especially when it’s liquid and I can pour it. Get rid of that Crisco – there’s ALWAYS an alternative! Thanks for asking – 🙂 Katie
I’m new here, but REALLY loving your site (even though I’m TOTALLY overwhelmed … even after reading your 3 steps to get started post! There are so many links! Much to my “to-do” list’s chagrin, I’ve spent my kids’ entire naptime, clicking through, reading, and feeling so very overwhelmed but at the same time excited about making healthy changes.
One recommendation you had was to make your own graham crackers. Do you have a recipe for that? I would LOVE to start making my own graham crackers; they’re one of my daughter’s favorite treats (and they can be pricey!).
Thanks for all of the fabulous posts you have written. I’m excited to continue exploring and making changes!
Sorry about that whole “sucking you in” thing. It happens to me every time I get in front of the computer! I’m glad you found things to inspire you though. I made homemade graham crackers finally this spring, and they got RAVE reviews at my son’s preschool (his birthday treat). Here’s the recipe: homemade whole wheat graham crackers. Enjoy! 🙂 Katie
What a great post! This is my first time here and I will definitely be back. I have been making my own refried beans for years, and thankfully, my family like them better than the canned kind. I have yet to make homemade tortillas, but that’s the next step for me. I try to stay away from anything that says hydrogenated in the ingredient list but it’s not always easy when you are trying to please the whole family.
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Thanks! Glad you like what you see – I’ll try to include lots of family-friendly stuff that is healthy. Welcome!
While checking labels, I came across 2 products that have “partially hydrogenated SOYBEAN oil”. As you indicated, the trans fat reading is reported as “0” but I am curious if this still fits in the trans fat category? I am guessing yes from the “partially hydrogenated” portion but am thrown off by it being SOY.
GREAT question! Soybean oil is just an oil like any other, and when taken from its liquid form to a solid form, it’s just as evil. Soy is actually one of those foods that some people laud like it’s going to save the world and others would sweep under the rug as so much dust. Don’t think the seeing the word soy=healthy. In this case, it definitely isn’t. I’m proud of you for checking labels right away! Eye opening, isn’t it? Thanks for the super question — Katie
Coconut oil is another great substitute for vegetable shortening. It is vegan, can withstand high heat, and is very healthy in and of itself! Its what I used to make my strawberry shortcake recipe.
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Absolutely – I am falling in love with coconut oil myself, but it’s kind of a bigger than baby step for a later date… 🙂