Trans fats are a hot topic in the food industry and health world. Through chemical manipulation, food manufacturers are able to change a liquid vegetable oil to a solid vegetable fat. This process started back in the 1940’s as an inexpensive replacement for animal fats and progressed through the 1980’s as a substitute for saturated fat. Trans fats, also know as hydrogenated fats, are found in common foods such as margarines, vegetable shorting, crackers, cookies, candies, snack foods, fried foods, and baked food items. Recently, trans fats were found to produce negative health effects raising cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and decreasing HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol), (Am J Clin Nutr. 2003, 77:1146-55). According the Walter Willett, head of the research and Fredrick Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at the Harvard of School of Public Health, 10-19 percent of all coronary heart disease occurrences were attributed to the intake of trans fats
( Harvard University Gazette, 4/20/06 )
As of January, 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all food manufacturers to list trans fats on the nutrition facts label. The FDA allows food manufacturers to list trans-fat content as zero for food products less than half a gram of trans fat. Food manufacturers can make a food claim as “trans-fat-free” for this condition. This can be confusing for a consumer selecting a food product containing ingredients including partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Food manufacturers are using saturated fats for food-product appeal in texture, taste, consistency and shelf life. The consumer needs to be aware of the total saturated fat content to be able to compare products.
Food manufacturers are using saturated fats and plant hybrids as a means to improve nutritional value and functional properties for recipe applications. For the consumer, too much saturated fat in the diet can promote heart disease. Food manufacturers are turning to tropical oils such as palm (palm fruit oil), palm kernel oil (from the fruit and nut), and coconut oil. Coconut oils have a higher saturated fat content than palm oils. Current research indicates palm oil is rich in saturated and monounsaturated fats. In addition, palm oil is rich in antioxidant compounds which are believed to provide protection against certain cancers. Palm kernel oil is more saturated than palm oil and contains a low amount of monounsaturated fats. This oil is often processed as “fractionated” palm kernel oil to removing the liquid portion from the saturated solids. Fractionated palm kernel oils are usually found in coatings for snack bars and sports bars. In terms of a healthy food choice, the value of fractionated –palm-kernel oil remains unknown.
Plant hybrids and blending oils developed by food manufacturers:
NuSun oil is a new class of sunflower seed and oil with a lower amount of saturated fat and zero trans fats. .NuSun oil has a natural stability for commercial cooking and frying with a clean light taste.
High Oleic Sunflower oil contains high levels of monounsaturated fats and low saturated fats without hydrogenation or trans fats. High oleic sunflower oil provides natural stability for shelf life and taste in dairy substitutes, spray oils for fruits and cereals, and salad or frying oil.
Interesterified soybean oils are a blend of saturated fats (hydrogenated) with unsaturated fats (un-hydrogenated) in a chemical or enzymatic process without producing a trans fat product. Interesterified soybean oils are semi-solid at room temperature and add texture, taste, structure aeration to food products such as margarine, baked goods, candies. .
Expeller pressed oils are oils physically refined through a mechanical process without chemical intervention. Expeller pressed oils are trans fat free as a combination of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils . Product examples are Whole Harvest culinary oils, Spectrum cooking oils such as almond, avocado, apricot kernel oils, natural corn and organic canola oils. .
Choosing a trans-fat-free product with a low saturated fat content?
- Read food labels for healthy trans free, low fat food selections.
- According to the American Heart Association, saturated fat content should not exceed 10% of the total dietary intake per individual caloric needs. The key to healthy food selections are: a low fat content < 3 gm per serving, < 1gm of saturated fat and zero trans fats.
- When calculating the total fat content, consider the amount of food you consume in comparison to the serving size.
- Healthy fat food sources include: soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, nuts, fish (especially the cold water fish such as salmon, rainbow trout, tuna, herring, sardines, mackerel).
- Know your favorite snack foods. Potato chips, corn chips, and pretzels are generally not made with partially hydrogenated oils. For zero trans-fat snack selections, choose Triscuit ® original crackers, Pepperidge Farm ® goldfish, Orville Redenbacher ® popping corn-light.
- Beware of trans fat free products. For food products less than half a gram of trans fat, the FDA allows food manufacturers to list trans fat content as “trans fat free”. A food product can still contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
- Trans fat free foods are likely to contain more saturated fat than the original product recipe.
- Look for trans-fat-free soft margarines or vegetable oils for cooking.
- Limit foods made with tropical oils e.g. palm kernel, palm, coconut. However, palm oil is a better choice than palm kernel oil.
- Alternative trans-fat-free health foods are Hain ®, Barbara’s ®, Bearitos ®, and Health Valley ® foods.
- When dining out, ask the waiter about the oils used in food preparation, frying, sautéing, and baking.
The Davidson Dining Service prepares foods in vegetable oils, vegetable blend oils e.g. soybean and olive oil, and butter. Cooking oils used for grilling, sautéing, frying, and baking are trans-fat-free.
Palmer, S. “Snack Attack: New regulations target trans fat”. Today’s Dietitian. 8(2):30-34.