What’s all the hype over trans fats?

If you’ve heard the term ‘hydrogenated fat,’ you may know more about trans fats that you realize. Trans fats are formed when vegetable oils are processed into margarine or shortening. This chemical process of ‘hydrogenation’ adds hydrogen atoms to liquid vegetable oils making them more solid and firmer.

Food manufacturers use hydrogenated vegetable oils to make cookies, crackers, pastries and muffins much more palatable to us consumers. Foods made with hydrogenated oils are also given a longer shelf life.

Hydrogenation makes a fat become saturated, and at the same time forms a new fat called trans fat. Consuming too much trans fat can increase your risk for heart disease by raising LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowering HDL (good) cholesterol.

The harmful effects of trans fats are not limited to heart disease. Studies have shown that the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes is increased with a greater intake of trans fat.

To limit the amount of trans fat in your diet, read the ingredient lists of packaged foods. If the terms ‘hydrogenated vegetable oils,’ ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oils’ or ‘shortening’ are listed in the ingredient list trans fats are likely present. As much as 40 per cent of the fat in foods such as French fries, fried fast food, donuts, pastries, patties, snack foods and store-bought cookies and crackers is trans fat.

If you eat margarine, choose a soft-tub brand that’s made with non-hydrogenated fat. If you are not sure if a product you eat has trans fats look at the nutrition facts panel. Add the values for polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and compare that number to the total amount of fat per serving. If there is a difference, the remaining value of fat will indicate that saturated and/or trans fats are present in that food.

Don’t be fooled by a ‘zero’ value under trans fats. Food manufacturers don’t need to tell you when there is as much as a half a gram (0.5) of fat in that product.

Test your fat knowledge

Can you pick the fast food item with the least amount of fat?

A. Single-patty hamburger

B. Fish filet sandwich

C. Six chicken nuggets

D. Two slices pepperoni pizza

The single patty burger has an average of 10 grams of fat

The fish fillet sandwich has 23 grams of fat; six chicken nuggets, 18 grams; and two slices of pepperoni pizza 14 grams

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