The Dangers of Trans Fat and How it Hides in Labels

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The dangers of trans fats are well known.

It’s rare for everyone to agree about a nutrition issue, but that’s what happens when it comes to this one.

Vegan, low-carb, paleo and other dieters are one and the same in their belief; trans fats are to be avoided.

The reason why is clear: they are a destroyer of health, linked to everything from cancer to cardiovascular heart disease (1, 2, 3).

Despite the world being aware of the dangers, they are still actively hidden in our food.

This article will look at why trans fat is so dangerous. Following that, we’ll examine the foods it is hiding in and some of the companies who use it.

A photo showing Crisco shortening

What is trans fat?

A chemical hydrogenation process creates trans fatty acids.

This process involves adding hydrogen atoms to polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils. The result is the solidification of liquid vegetable fats. Margarine and shortening products are some of the typical products using trans fats.

The result is a more stable fat less prone to rancidity which mimics saturated fats such as butter and lard.

Here is a video that explains the process in a simple, easy to understand way:

Mid 20th century scare stories convinced a health-conscious public to switch away from saturated fat.

And with its industrial backing, people saw trans fat as a healthy alternative.

The result: synthetic, damaging fat replaced healthy and natural sources of saturated fat.

We now know this to be one of the worst nutrition mistakes in history.

Saturated fat has redeemed itself in recent years after study after study finding no evidence of any cardiovascular heart disease link (4, 5, 6).

The very opposite is true for trans fat.

Why Are Trans Fats Bad?

Diets high in trans fatty acids are damaging to health for many reasons. Recent science shows strong links between trans fat and a multitude of chronic diseases.

Trans Fat and Cardiovascular Heart DiseaseTrans fat presents many health dangers, including an increased risk of cardiovascular heart disease,

  • Consumption of industrial trans fat is associated with a 34% increase in all-cause mortality.
  • Higher consumption of trans fats is associated with a 28% higher cardiovascular heart disease (CHD) mortality (7).
  • In controlled trials, for each 1% of energy from trans fat replaced by any other fat, CHD risk factors and health markers drastically improved.
  • For each 2% of energy from trans fat substituted by saturated, polyunsaturated, or monounsaturated fat, CHD risk reduced by 17% (8).

Trans Fat Causes Inflammation

  • In a randomized controlled study, participants fed a diet including trans fatty acids had higher C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation (9).
  • In a cross-sectional study of 730 women, CRP levels were 73% greater in those with the highest trans fat intake (10).

Trans Fat Has Links to CancerTrans fat is associated with cancer, Picture shows a cancer cell.

  • A case-control study analyzed the relationships between serum trans fat and prostate cancer risk in 426 men, with findings confirming a higher danger of developing prostate cancer (11).
  • In breast cancer cases, post-diagnostic trans fat intake was associated with 78% increased mortality in one study (12).

Trans Fat Increases Risk of Dementia

  • Several studies have found that trans fat intake may increase amyloid plaque aggregation in the brain, a culprit in the development of Alzheimer’s (13).

I don’t know about you, but this is something I don’t want to put into my body.

Where is Trans Fat Found?

A picture of a pastry: a common source of dangerous trans fats.

The first thingn is not to eat ultra-processed, packaged foods.

That way, you can be sure that what you’re eating is health-promoting rather than damaging to the body.

The following foods often contain trans fat:

  • Biscuits
  • Cakes
  • Commercial ice-cream
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Deep-fried foods
  • Donuts
  • Frosting for use on cakes and pastries
  • Frozen dinners
  • Pie crusts
  • Margarine
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Non-dairy creamer
  • Packaged desserts
  • Pastries
  • Pizza
  • Shortening
  • Store-bought chicken nuggets, chicken burgers, and other breadcrumbed foods.

If you are living on processed food, you’re probably eating trans fats too.

Trans Fat Hides in Our Food

It’s shocking that trans fats are still part of the food chain given how damaging we know them to be.

What may be even more shocking is that they are hiding in many commercial food products that are declared “free of trans fats.”

It’s as though the food companies don’t want you to know what you’re eating.

The truth is, food manufacturers don’t need to list trans fat on the ingredients panel if the amount per serving is under 0.5g. The result is that even if a manufacturer puts several grams of trans fat into their food, it might still be listed as, “Trans Fat 0g per serving”.

Take a pack of small cookies; imagine the serving size is “1 cookie”, and the amount of trans-fat in each cookie is 0.4g. In this instance, the packet may proudly state the product is free of trans fat.

If yoConfused blond girl with a messy hair gesturing with her hands and looking at the camera isolated on white backgroundu then ate 10 of those cookies, then you’d have consumed 4g of trans fat, despite believing none to be in your food.

Nutritional labeling should be a tool for the public to make informed, healthy food choices for themselves and their family. They should not be for food manufacturers to deceive their customers.

Ever wondered why snack serving sizes are often so small?

Which Brands Contain Trans Fat?

There are many healthier alternatives than trans fat, so there can be no excuse for manufacturers who continue poisoning us with it.

Some companies put their customers first and stopped using trans fat long ago. Other companies seem to care more about the costs of reformulating their products.

Here are some brands that use hidden trans fat in their food.

Kelloggs: Red Berries Cereal Bar

Kelloggs red berries cereal contains ingredients label shows that it contains trans fat.

Kellogg’s Red Berries Cereal Bar is advertised as a healthy breakfast alternative.

One thing they fail to mention in their marketing is the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

On the left, we can see that although the trans fat per serving is listed as 0g, the product contains partially hydrogenated oil.

Often viewed as a quick, nutritious go-to breakfast for busy moms, the reputation is undeserved.

Not such a healthy breakfast treat.

 

 

 

Ritz: Crackers

Ingredients label of Ritz crackers show that the product contains trans fat - partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil.

The nutritional label of Ritz Crackers.

 

Ritz Crackers. Memories of my childhood flood back to me when I look at this box.

I used to love them as a child, as a teen, and even as a young adult too. I remember struggling with the thought of putting the box down, but the taste was just so addictive and overpowering.

I wanted to keep eating more and more.

But not now. I know better than to eat this kind of food now – well, that’s if you can call it food. More a food-like product.

Just look at that ingredients profile: refined flour, trans-fat, sugar, corn syrup. Despite showing trans fat in the ingredients panel, the nutrition facts paint an entirely different story: “Trans Fat 0g.”

 

Swanson: Hungry-Man Steak TV Dinner

A picture of the box art for a Hungry Man TV dinner.

Next up: a ready-to-eat frozen meal.

Most people know that this type of food is not so healthy but just look at the art cover.

It doesn’t look too bad. Only four or five ingredients and the manufacturer seems to take pride in their “home-style” food.

If you’re thinking it looks relatively wholesome, then think again and take a look at the ingredients.

Ingredients label of a hungry man TV dinner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quite shocking, and it’s scary to see so many ingredients in just one food. This serves as a real reminder that industrialized food products have no resemblance to natural food. 

Quaker: Granola Bars

Nutrition information and ingredients label for Quaker granola bars.

 

It seems we have more cereal bars.

Wholegrain cereal bars, no less!

Advertised as a healthy start to the day, they are anything but.

Trans fat content is listed as 0g in the nutrition facts. However, partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils come close to the top of the ingredients.

Fred Kummerow: A True Nutrition Hero

No article on trans fat is complete without mentioning Fred Kummerow.

There are many people who I class as “nutrition heroes”, but Fred Kummerow definitely deserves the “hero” tag.

If you haven’t heard of him, he’s a University of Illinois professor/researcher, warning against trans fat since the 1950s. He even sued the FDA.

Oh, and he’s now 101 years old. And still researching.

Here’s a quick fact file about him.

  • Kummerow first made the link between trans fat and heart disease in the 1950s.
  • He first started warning against trans fat consumption in 1957.
  • He was a lone voice fighting to get trans fat removed from the food chain. At the same time, the whole nutrition world preached about its healthful properties.
  • After decades of campaigning to remove trans fat from the food chain, he filed a petition to the FDA. What did the FDA do? Nothing.
  • In 2013, after finally losing patience, Kummerow took the FDA to court to try and force the issue.
  • So persuasive was Kummerow’s case that the judge ordered the FDA to ban all trans fat unless new evidence could be provided for their safety.
  • Three months later, the FDA announced a ban on trans fat to start in 2018.

“Cholesterol has nothing to do with heart disease, except if it’s oxidized,”

– Fred Kummerow

Final Thoughts

Trans fat is set to be banned from 2018 onwards, but until that time it will be lurking in food all around you.

The best way to avoid the health dangers of trans fat is not to eat processed foods.

If you can’t do that, then at least check the labels carefully because “Trans Fat 0g” means nothing.

 

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