How Trans Fats can affect our Health- According to the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires food manufacturers to list Trans fat (i.e., trans fatty acids) on Nutrition Facts and some Supplement Facts panels. Scientific evidence shows that consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol levels that increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institute of Health, over 12.5 million Americans suffer from CHD, and more than 500,000 people die from this problem each year. This makes CHD one of the leading causes of death in the United States today.
The FDA has required that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol be listed on food labels since 1993. By adding trans fat on the Nutrition Facts panel (required since January 1, 2006), consumers now know for the first time how much of all three -- saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol -- are in the foods they choose. 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. This revised label, which includes information on trans fat as well as saturated fat and cholesterol, will be of particular interest to people concerned about high blood cholesterol and heart disease. However, all Americans should be aware of the risk posed by consuming too much saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. But what is trans fat, and how can you limit the amount of this fat in your diet?
What is Trans Fat?
Where will I find trans fat?
Vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils.
Unlike other fats, the majority of trans fat is formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine. However, a small amount of trans fat is found naturally, primarily in some animal-based foods. Essentially, 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, like saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, raises the LDL (or "bad") cholesterol that increases your risk for CHD. On average, Americans consume 4 to 5 times as much saturated fat as trans fat in their diet.
Although saturated fat is the main dietary culprit that raises LDL, trans fat and dietary cholesterol also contribute significantly. 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.
Are All Fats the Same?
Simply put: no. Fat is a major source of energy for the body and aids in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K, and carotenoids. Both animal and plant-derived food products contain fat, and when eaten in moderation, fat is important for proper growth, development, and maintenance of good health. As a food ingredient, fat provides taste, consistency, and stability and helps us feel full. In addition, parents should be aware that fats are an especially 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.
Saturated and trans fats raise LDL (or "bad") cholesterol levels in the blood, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease. Dietary cholesterol also contributes to heart disease. Unsaturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats do not raise LDL cholesterol and are beneficial when consumed in moderation. Therefore, it is advisable to choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol as part of a healthful diet.
What Can I Do About Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, and Cholesterol?
When comparing foods, look at the Nutrition Facts panel, and choose the food with the lowest amounts of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Health experts recommend that you keep your intake of these nutrients as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet. However, these experts recognize that eliminating these three components entirely from your diet is not practical because they are unavoidable in ordinary diets.
Where Can I Find Trans Fat on the Food Label?
Consumers can find trans fat listed on the Nutrition Facts panel directly under the line for saturated fat.
Why Do Some Products Not Declare Trans Fat On Their Labels?
There may be two reasons why you are not seeing trans fat on a product's label.
First, products entering interstate commerce on or after the year 2006 must be labeled with trans fat. As this is happening, the FDA realizes that it will take some time for food products to move through the distribution chain to a store shelf. Therefore, it may take a few months for products that are listing trans fat on their label to show up on a store shelf. However, you will see many products with trans fat listed since companies have already begun to declare trans fat on their product labels.
Second, the FDA has granted enforcement discretion to some firms to use old label stock that does not declare trans fat after the effective date of January 1, 2006. If trans fat is not declared on the label and you are curious about the trans fat content of a product, contact the manufacturer listed on the label.
Practical Tips for Consumers!
Here are some practical tips you can use every day to 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 because the serving sizes are generally consistent in similar types of foods. Choose foods lower in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. For saturated fat and cholesterol, use the Quick Guide to %DV: 5%DV or less is low and 20%DV or more is high. (Remember, there is no %DV for trans fat.)
- 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.
Sources of monounsaturated fats include olive and canola oils.
Sources of polyunsaturated fats include soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil and food like nuts and fish.
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- Choose vegetable oils (except coconut and palm kernel oils) 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.
- Consider Fish. Most fish are lower in saturated fat than meat. Some fish, such as mackerel, sardines, and salmon, contain omega-3 fatty acids that are being studied to determine if they 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 Before You Order When Eating Out. A good tip to remember is to ask which fats are being used in the preparation of your food when eating or ordering out.
- Watch Calories. Don't be fooled! 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.
- Here are two ways consumers can take to keep their intake of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol "low":
- Look at the Nutrition Facts panel when comparing products. Choose foods low in the combined amount of saturated fat and trans fat and low in cholesterol as part of a nutritionally adequate diet.
- When possible, substitute alternative fats that are higher in mono- and polyunsaturated fats like olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil and corn oil.