A Trans Fat Rant! And 6 Tips for Healthier Baking!
You've known about trans fat for years now - that it's found in fried foods, shortening, crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, baked goods and other foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. You also know it's most commonly associated with fast-food restaurants (although many have rid their kitchens of the nasty stuff...to be replaced with what, I'm not exactly sure yet). We see "0 Grams Trans Fat" all over the boxes of our grocery-bought food, too. But did you know that if a food contains less than 0.5 grams of the stuff, they don't have to list it on the nutrition label? You'll either find "partially hydrogenated" oils listed in the ingredients or a footnote stating that the food is "not a significant source of trans fat." Ack! Sure, 0.5 grams may not seem like much...however that's for one serving of whatever food item it is you're buying. How many of us eat more than one serving of crackers or chips in a single sitting? It's easy to do if you're not monitoring your portion sizes carefully. And even if you are careful about how much you're putting down your pipes, how much will that 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving amount to over time if we continue buying and eating that very same product? Never mind, I don't want to know!
I recently found out that my FAVORITE coffee creamer - a certain non-dairy and fat-free French Vanilla flavor - has "partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil" as the third ingredient. WHAAAAAT?! You can imagine my *shock* at the discovery! Upon further investigation and in a desperate attempt to find something equally wonderful without the fatty junk in it, I scoured the grocery store shelves and read ingredient list upon ingredient list. Partially hydrogenated this and partially hydrogenated that is all I found! Even in the powdered creamers! Nooooo!!! I was better off buying low fat Half & Half, which is just gross! I mean sure I could attempt to drink my coffee straight up, but that would require me, well, to change who I am completely. There's no time for that! I did finally settle on vanilla soy milk, which works well enough but is a far cry from the heart attack-inducing stuff I thought was so yummy and innocent. I mean c'mon, non-dairy coffee creamer?! I know enough to look for the stuff in everything else I consume, but really didn't think they'd go to the extent to use it in this case. Consider me informed! And so I thought you should all be! So here are the most important things you need to know about trans fat right now.
What is trans fat? Trans fat is a specific type of fat formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine. A small amount of trans fat is naturally found in some animal-based foods, therefore the FDA doesn't suggest we cut out all trans fat from our diet because we need just a little bit when it comes in these natural sources, or else our diets won't get some crucial nutrients. Trans fat is made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil - a process called hydrogenation. This increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods, which is good for food manufacturers and it allows us to keep our foods stored longer. But it's very harmful to us.
What can we do to lower our intake of hydrogenated oils? Choose alternative fats where you can, such as mono and polyunsaturated, which won't raise LDL levels and are "healthy" fats when eaten in moderation. Olive and canola oils are good sources. Don't be misguided when the ingredients panel lists coconut or palm kernel oils either. While these two oils can be all right if used in their "virgin" form, as with any oil - watch for the word "hydrogenated" in front of them!
Is it better to eat butter instead of margarine to avoid trans fat? No, because the combined amount of saturated fat and trans fat and cholesterol for butter is usually higher than margarine, even though some margarines contain more trans fat than butter. It's also better to eat softer or liquid margarines that contain a lower combined amount of fats and cholesterol. What this trainer says: Spray butter is where it's at!
What's wrong with hydrogenation? In short, trans fats are like poisons (I am not editorializing here!), just like arsenic or cyanide. "They interfere with the metabolic processes of life by taking the place of a natural substance that performs a critical function." Um, that's pretty much the definition of a poison. Your body has no defense against them because they never even existed in our two billion years of evolution - so we've never had the need or the opportunity to evolve a defense against them. For more info about the health effects of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, click here.
What are some grocery store food items that are safe to eat? Check out this list, courtesy of EBrandAid (go to www.ebrandaid.com for the entire grocery shopping list).
Trans Fat-Free Items
Barbara's Bakery Cinnamon Puffins (great for adults too!)
Kashi Good Friends Cinna Raisin Crunch
Nature's Path Optimum Power Breakfast (Flax-Soy-Blueberry)
Amy's Frozen Meals and TV Dinners
Kashi All Natural Entrees
Sara Lee Hearty and Delicious - 100% Multigrain, 100% Wheat with Honey, and 100% Whole Wheat varieties
Garden of Eatin' Blue Corn Tortilla Chips (all flavors)
Terra Blues Potato Chips
Wasa Fiber Crispbread
Popcorn - Newman's Own Organic No Butter/No Salt 94% Fat Free
Dark chocolate - Ghiradelli Twilight Delight 72% (always a favorite!)
Fage Total 0% Greek Yogurt
Stonyfield Farm Organic Lowfat Yogurt (all flavors)
Speaking of Treats!
Here's how to bake healthier at home and say buh-bye to those evil sneaky fats and calories.
Boost the Fiber:
In cakes and cheesecakes: Instead of frosting, icing or whipped cream, top generously with seasonal fresh fruit.
In cookies: Add 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats and subtract 1/4 cup all-purpose flour.
Cut the Calories:
In cakes: Replace half of the fat (butter, margarine or oil) with unsweetened applesauce, then reduce sugar by about a spoonful.
In cookies: Eliminate a quarter of the sugar and increase vanilla extract by 1/4 teaspoon.
Up the Nutrition:
In cakes: Replace half of the butter or margarine with healthier canola oil.
In cookies, brownies and muffins/sweetbreads: Replace up to half of the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat or buckwheat flour.
That's enough of my ranting, now go be trans fat-free!