Nutrition Articles

Translating Those Trans Fats

Understanding and Avoiding these Unhealthy Fats

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How can I tell if a food contains trans fat?
Even though trans fats are bad for your health, and about 40% of foods on supermarket shelves contain them. To help consumers reduce the amount of trans fat in their diets, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required food companies to list the grams of trans fat that a food contains on the Nutrition Facts label. This requirement began in January 2006. But if the particular package you’re perusing entered interstate commerce before the law took effect, then the label may not be accurate.

How can a food list zero grams of trans fat on the label, but still contain partially hydrogenated oil in its ingredients?
Currently, the FDA's label regulations state that when one serving of a product contains less than 0.5 grams of any nutrient (including trans fat), then the amount is considered nutritionally insignificant and can be expressed a “0 grams” on the Nutrition Facts label. So in this case, the product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. While it may not seem like a lot, when you consume more than one serving in a sitting, or more than one serving of that food over time, it can really add up.

If the word “hydrogenated” appears in the Ingredients list, does that automatically mean that the food contains trans fat?
Not always. "Partially hydrogenated" oils DO contain some amount of trans fat, but fully "hydrogenated" oils become predominantly saturated fat and do NOT contain trans fat. These fats are included in the saturated fat listing on the Nutrition Facts label.

Do restaurant foods contain trans fat?
While food companies are required to list trans fat on their labels and are working to find healthier substitutions, the restaurant industry has not received the pressure to change. Many restaurants prefer to fry their foods using partially hydrogenated oils, resulting in a high trans fat content in the food.

For now, the best way to avoid trans and saturated fats when dining out is to skip the fried foods, including French fries and all fried vegetables, fish, seafood, chicken, appetizers, and pastries. You can also ask for an ingredients list and find out what kind of oil is used for frying or cooking. Some restaurants that voluntarily list their nutrition facts online or in print also include trans fat contents of their foods.

Is there a guideline or limit on how many grams of trans fat we should consume?
Although scientific reports have confirmed a relationship between trans fat and an increased risk of coronary heart disease, researchers have not yet established a reference value for trans fat. Instead, they are advising consumers to eat as little trans fat as possible. One study published in the journal Food and Nutrition Research found that eating more than five grams of trans fat per day can increase your risk of heart disease by 29 percent. When comparing foods at the store, choose the food that is lower in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.

But you can still have your cake, eat it, and have a healthy heart too. Just avoid products that list partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or shortening as an ingredient.  Your heart will thank you!
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • HAMILTE3
    Can somebody write an article on trans-fats in fish oil supplements. I have no idea if any fish-oil supplement products are without any. And I don't see the trans-fats on labels. - 12/26/2013 12:48:08 PM
  • What a country. The food companies are trying to kill us. What are they going to do when they have finished killing all their companies? - 10/14/2013 10:44:38 AM
  • MBENINCAS
    IT has already been proven that Saturated fats don't contribute to heart disease. - 9/24/2013 7:15:41 AM
  • Im not worried about going a little over my fat intake because i take an alli fat blocker if i know im close to going over. - 3/31/2013 9:40:35 AM
  • PINEWASHINGTON
    My calorie, fat's were bad, I always read the labels at the market and I always used margarine on the basic foods when making cookies, pies, cakes I used all fresh ingr. When using trans fats, always veg, oil. Wesson. sugar sub's no,.

    I just hae to be more kind to myself, that would be a better start to a rodden day.Ha Ha

    Good Luck to all of us........ - 10/31/2012 7:33:19 PM
  • I have a question and would greatly appreciate it if someone sparkmailed me an answer.

    Which would be better, fully hyrdogenated vegetable oil? Or more natural saturated fat like Palm oil? Both contain predominately saturated fats, palm oil maybe a little more with the hyrdogenated vegetable oil a little more polyunsaturated, but which here is better? Palm oil would be less proccessed that the chemically altered stuff to keep things like Peanut Butter the right consitency at room temperatue. - 9/20/2012 7:44:21 AM
  • SANDIBETTS1
    Sorry, I asked a question--should have done it on message board. - 4/17/2012 8:57:04 AM
  • SANDIBETTS1
    I would like to know more about coconut oil--explain please. I think I know answer but would like more "real" info. - 4/17/2012 8:56:11 AM
  • SANDIBETTS1
    Thank you for the good information so that we do not fool ourselves any ore. - 4/17/2012 8:53:30 AM
  • PIXIESTIX6669
    Don't look at the nutrition information on packaging, look at the list of ingredients...The
    re's a loophole (of course) that allows companies to list NO TRANS FATS if they use no more than .05 grams per serving! If the ingredient list has partially hydrogenated oil, it's got 0.5 grams per serving...and having just 3 or 4 items with this 0.5 grams quickly adds up to fiendish amounts of this garbage! Don't even THINK about eating fries out...
    - 4/11/2011 12:13:01 AM
  • PIXIESTIX6669
    Once you give up trans fats, and all other unhealthy fats, you don't miss them at all. I tend to see french fries as plates of trans fats, lol, and have no desire to eat them. I've heard trans fats are so dangerous, some Euro countries have banned even the .05 grams from foods...they don't allow ANY trans fats at all...which is what this country should do...butter from grass fed cows is way healthier than trans fats

    http://www.gras
    sfedtradition
    s.com/grass_f
    ed_butter.htm

    Butter is rich in short and medium chain fatty acids, including even small amounts of lauric acid. It is rich in antioxidants as well, in the form of beta carotene, vitamin E, and selenium. It is one of the best sources of vitamin A. Because living grass is richer in vitamins E, A, and beta-carotene than stored hay or standard dairy diets, butter from dairy cows grazing on fresh pasture is also richer in these important nutrients. The naturally golden color of grass-fed butter is a clear indication of its superior nutritional value. (Searles, SK et al, “Vitamin E, Vitamin A, and Carotene Contents of Alberta Butter.” Journal of Diary Science, 53(2) 150–154.) - 4/11/2011 12:07:23 AM
  • NJ_HOU
    Looking for a reason to avoid Trans Fats read from breastcancer.org .... http://www.breast
    cancer.org/ti
    ps/nutrition/
    new_research/
    20080411b.jsp title of article Trans-fats linked to breast cancer risk in study

    The study reviewed here found that eating a lot of trans fats may increase breast cancer risk. Of the 25,000 European women who participated in the study, women who had the highest levels of .....

    - 1/16/2011 12:45:41 AM
  • Poly unsaturated oils are healthy eaten straight from the bottle, ie made into a dressing, but as soon as you heat this type of fat their molecules change and become not so healthy. There for if you are going to fry with oil you are best off using a monounsaturated oil such as avocado or Olive as these are more stable at high temperatures. A lot of takeaway joints say they are using 'heart healthy' polyunsaturated oils - which might be true if they weren't deep frying with them. - 1/7/2011 7:03:46 PM
  • I am really, really worried about trans fats. It seems as if every label states there are 0 trans fat. (In fact, I have not seen a label that admits there are trans fats in a food.) Yet I understand that sometimes, especially if a product is cooked, there will be enough trans fats in the finished product. Is this so??? - 1/5/2010 9:58:42 AM
  • TLAUER1
    I always try to avoid trans fats at home but never thought about asking for ingredients at restuarants. This was an excellent article and gave me a lot of useful information. - 10/13/2009 10:32:41 AM

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