Sunday, January 29, 2012

So What Is Trans Fat?

It's a legitimate question.  Trans fat seems to be the elusive killer in food, rarely seen on nutrition labels because of all major food companies' desperate attempts to get it out of mainstream consumption.  But the question (besides "what") is why?  What is this stuff and why is it so dangerous/undesirable to eat?  Could it really cause that much damage to the human body?  It's just a little fat, after all.  

Well, it's not quite that simple unfortunately.  I could get into some pretty heavy chemistry, but I don't think many of you would be too interested in all of that.  I'll go as far as to say that trans fat is basically an unsaturated fat with a little thing called a "trans-isomer" tacked on the end.  This makes the fat molecule "stiffer," more robust, and more likely to clog arteries.  Think of it like this:  Healthy, unsaturated fat flows freely through your body and is actually healthy for your heart.  Trans fat piles up in your bloodstream and makes your heart work double time to keep pumping at an acceptable flow rate.  Not good, not by a long shot.

But the really devious nature of trans fats goes beyond its chemical structure, and toward the fact that it actually affects both of your cholesterol types.  It raises LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff) and decreases HDL cholesterol (the good stuff.)  That's a pretty bad double whammy, even worse than just plain saturated fat (that stuff just raises your total cholesterol levels, still not good, but not quite as bad.)  Large consumption of trans fat has actually been shown to drastically increase risk for heart disease (going as far as doubling it in women).  Trust me, you want to steer clear of this stuff.

But what is trans fat actually in?  Well, not nearly as many foods anymore, thank goodness.  Trans fat actually doesn't really occur too often in nature, beyond a slight amount in things like beef and dairy.  It's much more commonly found in processed food, specifically foods that contain hydrogenated oils (natural vegetable oils with hydrogen added to "stiffen" them).  You'll find trans fat in things like margarine, sweetened peanut butter (not the natural stuff though...that stuff is heavenly AND healthy), and all sorts of quick little snacks and fast food.  The shortening dubbed "Crisco" was probably the most famous for its trans fat content, and only recently has the company introduced a variant with no trans fat.  Here's a list of Grocery store foods you can find out there today with the highest trans fat content (and therefore should probably be dubbed the blacklist of food):

1. Celeste Pizza (5 g of trans fat per serving)

2. Marie Callender's American Pies (5 g of trans fat per serving)

3. Pop Secret Popcorn (5 g of trans fat per serving)

4. Utz Hulless Puff'n Corn (Cheese flavor has 5 g per serving, original has 3.5 g)

5. Jolly Time Popcorn (4 g of trans fat per serving)

6.Pillsbury Grands! Biscuits (3.5 g trans fat per serving)

7. Shore Lunch Creamy Potato Soup Mix (3.5 g trans fat per serving)

8. Aunt Jemima Biscuit Sandwiches (3 g trans fat per serving)

9. Betty Crocker Helper Complete Meals (3 g trans fat per serving)

10. Gardetto's Roasted Garlic Rye Chips (3 g trans fat per serving)

Here's the original list:

And HERE are the top 88 fast foods highest in trans fat:

In fact you should look quite closely at any sort of packaged foods like pie crusts, cookies, candy, frozen dinners, butters, oils, and other similar products to make absolutely sure they have NO trans fat.  Many companies that previously had products high in trans fat have released zero trans fat varieties of their food (one that comes to mind is Country Crock Margarine), so spend a little extra time reading the labels and making absolutely sure that what you're getting doesn't have any.

Just remember, the more processed and "fake" the food looks, the more likely it will contain things you don't want in your body.  Spend some time reading the labels, the ingredients, and know what you're feeding that ever-improving body of yours.

Be careful, avoid those trans fats, and GOOD LUCK!

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