If you are trying to eat a healthy diet, you've already heard a lot about fats. You probably know that all fats are high in calories, but are you aware that all fats are not created equal? While there are healthy fats like olive oil, there are also unhealthy versions called "trans fats." It's important to know what trans fats are and how you can limit them.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some doctors consider trans fat the worst kind of fat. Unlike other types of fat, trans fat, which is also known as trans-fatty acids, elevates the level of "bad" cholesterol (LDL) and lowers "good" cholesterol (HDL).
What are trans fats?
Dangerous trans fats are produced artificially when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil through a hydrogenation process. Years ago, food manufacturers wanted to develop oil for their products that didn't spoil. What they ended up with was a new type of oil that kept their products fresh longer, resulting in a much-desired extended shelf life. The less-greasy appearance of the food was another surprise.
Research has been unable to figure out why adding hydrogen to oil increases cholesterol in the body more than other types of fats do. The best guess is that the addition of hydrogen during the process of making trans fats creates a unique oil mixture. Because the body doesn't recognize it, and it's difficult to digest, it processes trans fats just like it does the saturated fats that are also unsafe for a healthy heart.
There is also a debate in the medical community over how much trans fat is safe to eat. The Mayo Clinic reports that the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting your consumption, but a daily value for trans fats is unknown. The AHA recommends that you limit your daily consumption of trans fats to no more than one percent of your total calories. That translates into two grams of trans fats or less for people who eat a diet with 2,000 calories per day.
How can you limit trans fats?
Prepackaged foods, commercially made products and deep-fried foods are especially high in trans fats. How can you limit trans fats? By reading food labels carefully. The United States and many foreign countries require listing any trans fats used on the product nutrition label. But here's the catch. In the U.S., any product that contains 0.5 gram of trans fats is allowed to show "0" on its label. This might seem like a negligible amount until you eat multiple servings of these foods.
Another form of trans fats is called "partially hydrogenated" or "hydrogenated" vegetable oil. When you see these words on a food label, know that the food contains some level of trans fats and proceed with caution.
An important part of reading a food label is to understand serving sizes. If your purchased cookies are labelled to show they have zero trans fats, but in truth each contains 0.5 gram, and you eat four of them, you have just ingested two grams of trans fats.
Understanding how to read a food label is important in order to know what trans fats are and how you can limit them. A misleading trend has begun to appear in processed foods. Manufacturers have eliminated trans fats but are replacing them with deceptive ingredients high in saturated fat like coconut, palm and palm kernel oils. Saturated fat also raises LDL cholesterol levels and should be limited to less than seven percent of your daily fat calories.
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