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Transitioning Out of Trans Fats in Processed Foods

Emily McTavish

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration announced food manufacturers will have three years to remove partially hydrogenated oils, which are the primary source of trans fats in processed foods.

Food manufacturers can petition the FDA for permission to keep using partially hydrogenated oils instead of changing recipes.

Gary Young, certified nutrition coach at Zen Life Solutions in Springfield, says since trans fats are not natural, the body doesn’t know how to use them.

“The big issue with trans fats is when you take an unsaturated oil from a vegetable, nut or seed and you add a hydrogen molecule to it,” Young says. “They basically heat the oils to a high temperature and inject the molecules, as they’re heated, with the hydrogen molecule.”

Young continues, “The biggest problem with trans fats is that they are stored by the body as fat, and of course we all know that means we are going to be carrying more weight than what we want.”

The American Heart Association says trans fats lower ‘good cholesterol,’ LDL, and raises ‘bad cholesterol,’ HDL.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the leading cause of death for Americans is heart disease. Further down its list is stroke and diabetes, all affected by cholesterol levels.

Trans fats are commonly found in margarine, baked goods, fried and frozen foods. Since 2006, the FDA has required manufacturers to label the trans fat content on nutrition labels.

According to a FDA press release, “Currently foods are allowed to be labeled as having ‘0’ grams trans fat if they contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.”

Crisco Vegetable Shortening lists having 0 grams of trans fat in a single tablespoon serving. However, some of the ingredients in Crisco are fully hydrogenated palm oil and partially hydrogenated palm and soybean oils, which Young says are some of the worst oils.

Young says he’d rather see avid bakers use real butter rather than Crisco or margarine, and he also recommends trying coconut oil when cooking.

In addition, Young says the nutrition label information is irrelevant, unless you’re on a specific calorie-counting diet.

“What’s more important is the ingredient list—what’s in there,” Young says. “Try to stick with the foods that have ingredients that you can pronounce and have the shortest ingredient list that you can find. I always try and look for the products with the least amount of ingredients, least added ingredients.”

Bambi Callison, who works in the deli section at a Price Cutter in Springfield, says she does pay attention to food labels.

“I’m looking for no sugar added, absolutely no aspartame, and I do look at trans fats pretty much all the time—not all the time but pretty much all the time,” Callison says.

Callison says she’s always been a conscious shopper, but since turning 50, she does pay more attention to nutrition for her overall health and for when she’s looking after her grandchildren.

Young applauds this recent step by the FDA, adding that he thinks the agency’s next step should be to eliminate Genetically Modified Organisms from foods. See how the FDA regulates GMOs