The FDA announced on November 7 that all foods should be cooked WITHOUT trans fats and that keeping trans fats to 0 grams per day will improve the heart health of the nation. That’s big news because when you sit down at many restaurants and are served bread or rolls, the chef may have used trans fats or purchased ready-to-bake rolls and biscuits with trans fats. The oils they use to cook the foods may have trans fat. If they are using olive oil or canola oil, they don’t. You just don’t know.
Part of the lap band journey is making changes in the way you eat and looking closer at better food choices. Identifying lower fat food items is a start. Trans fats are partially hydrogenated oils that help preserve foods. But to achieve ZERO trans fat, look at the label and you’ll find the words partially hydrogenated oil (or hydrogenized oils or fully hydrogenated oil). At the grocery store, trans fats are in processed foods - often in the baking aisle of boxed mixes - and the frozen food section.
What's lurking in the pantry?
I decided to clean out my pantry, refrigerator and freezer this morning after the new reports about trans fat. I wanted to see if any trans fats were lurking. I looked for the words HYDROGENATED or HYDROGENIZED OIL. Many food manufacturers have already made the switch, but I found them in my Jiffy peanut butter, but not my almond butter, in my bread crumbs, some but not all frostings (often the generic brands), peanut butter baking chips, gravy mixes, Jiffy cornbread mix, those generic 2-min. French bread pizzas, pizza pockets, hot cocoa mix, toaster strudels, ready-bake rolls, barbecue sauce, and the cinnamon rolls I just bought from a school fundraiser, as well as the buttered popcorn from the Boy Scouts’ sale.
All of these food items had the word hydrogenated or hydrogenized oil listed as part of the ingredients, but many claimed 0% trans fats on the callout box citing nutritional information.
How can that be?
Tricky wording on food labels
Artificial trans fats are formed when food manufacturers turn liquid oils into solid fats in a process called hydrogenation, which increases a food's shelf life. In the body, trans fats (partially hydrogenated oil) funnel themselves to our body’s arteries and for some that results in heart disease. Trans fats raise levels of bad cholesterol and lower levels of good cholesterol. The FDA said in their announcement that while Americans are eating fewer trans fats today than 5 and 10 years ago, getting to ZERO trans fats a day would prevent more than 20,000 heart attacks and more than 7,000 new cases of heart disease each year. That’s important if you have a medical history for heart disease and stroke in your family.
Nutrition experts say there are several reasons why foods containing hydrogenated oils may be labeled "trans-fat free," or list 0 grams trans fats on the label.
- If the food ingredients identifies partially hydrogenated oils (but contain less than 0.5g of trans fats per serving) the government currently considers that to be trans-fat free. For example, commercial peanut butter may contain less than 1 gram of partially hydrogenated oil to prevent separation. The problem with this definition is, how often do we eat more than the stated serving size? So the grams of fat add up.
- Food items containing fully hydrogenated oils are labeled as trans-fat free because this the process of making the liquid fat to a solid was done fully, not partially, so ALMOST no trans fats remain. However, full hydrogenation does increase the amount of saturated fat. Overall, fully hydrogenated fats are less harmful than partially hydrogenated fats.
- Just because a food item says it’s trans-fat-free doesn't mean it is low fat. One tablespoon of trans-fat free shortening contains 110 calories, 12g of fat, 3g of which is saturated. Hence the claim, "cholesterol-free."
- Beware: If the food label lists "hydrogenated oil," without specifically identifying the words “partially” or “fully” hydrogenated, it may not be trans-fat free. Sometimes the terms "hydrogenated" and "partially hydrogenated" are used interchangeably on food labels.
Looking for hidden trans fats is like an I SPY game.
It’s really hard to know if your sandwich contains trans fats. Currently one of the biggest offenders is Popeye’s breakfast hashbrowns with 10 grams of fat. Long John Silver's announced plans in August to switch to trans fat-free cooking oil by the end of this year because their clam strips have 7 trans fat grams per serving. Avoid deep fried foods.
What’s in your fridge?
Margarine is thought to be the healthier choice? Right? Some, but not all, brands of stick margarine contain trans fat. The Walmart brand has 3 grams per serving. I checked my refrigerator and my soft-serve Country Crock and Imperial stick margarine did not have trans fats.
What's in your pantry?
Now move to your pantry and check the labels. Several food manufacturers have removed trans fats from their recipes, but buttered microwave popcorn is another issue: Pop Secret Premium Butter Popcorn – 5 trans fats; Jolly Time Blast o Butter Popcorn – 4 trans fats. So did my Boy Scout Buttered popcorn. Next time I’ll just make a donation.
Cakes and pies have trans fats that help with the baking of that dessert or improve the texture of the frosting once thawed. While many food items are now free of these fats, read the labels. The cr?me pies and cheesecakes are culprits.
A boxed mix for a graham cracker pie crust or a container of ready-made frosting may have trans fats. When I checked, the Betty Crocker brand of frosting did not, but lesser known brands did. I usually have frosting around for cupcake treats for the kids’ events, but now I will read the labels closer.
Not sure what to do about peanut butter. It says fully hydrogenized. I’m sure there is a brand that has eliminated all trans fats. I might need to stir it before I scoop and spread and make PB sandwiches for lunches and follow the recommended serving size. While I am a label reader, my husband and girls may not be. So I want to have the heart healthiest foods at their fingertips. This little exercise took 15 minutes and now I am a lot wiser.
If you are already on the Lap-Band journey, you have most likely cleaned out your pantry. For those on supervised weight loss before surgery, consider doing this activity. See what’s in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. You might be surprised!