2015: A U.S. with no trans fat

Identifying trans fat in food.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first proposed in 1999 that manufacturers be required to declare the amount of trans fat on nutrition facts labels because of public health concerns and it became effective in 2006. Of the food supply 75 percent is already trans fat free, so most consumers would not notice a difference in their food supply.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that a further reduction of trans fat in the food supply can prevent an additional 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year and up to 20,000 heart attacks each year. Trans fat has been linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, in which plaque builds up inside the arteries and may cause a heart attack. As intake of trans fat increases, the level of LDL (bad) cholesterol increases. Last week, the FDA issued a proposal that, if finalized, would effectively categorize trans fats as illegal food additives that would need to be phased out.

Trans fatty acids is a type of fat formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats, such as shortening and hard margarine through a process called hydrogenation. Trans fats are found in many prepared foods, such as most baked goods, crackers, some cereals, most peanut butter, cookies, cakes, frozen pies, snack foods (such as microwave popcorn), frozen pizza, vegetable shortenings and stick margarines, coffee creamers, refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls) and ready to use frostings.

To find out if a food contains trans fat, look at the nutrition facts label where it will be listed below saturated fat. Also, read the food ingredient list to look for “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oil. Foods that contain these ingredients contain trans fats. Under current regulations, companies can make the claim “trans fat free” on the front of the package if the food contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, in which it may not be 100 percent trans fat free.

Here are some actions you can take every day to keep your consumption of both saturated and trans fats and cholesterol low while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.

  • Check the nutrition facts panel to compare foods because serving sizes are generally consistent in similar types of foods. Choose foods lower in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. For saturated fat and cholesterol, use the Quick Guide: A five percent Daily Value (DV) or less is low and 20 percent DV or more is high.
  •  Choose alternative fats. Replace saturated and trans fats in your diet with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Sources of monounsaturated fats include olive and canola oils. Sources of polyunsaturated fats include soybean, corn, sunflower oils and foods such as nuts.
  • Choose vegetable oils and soft margarines (liquid, tub or spray) more often because the combined amount of saturated and trans fats is lower than the amount in solid shortenings, hard margarines and animal fats, including butter.
  • Consider fish. Most fish are lower in saturated fat than alternative meat.
  • Limit foods high in cholesterol such as liver and other organ meats, egg yolks and full-fat dairy products such as whole milk.
  • Choose foods low in saturated fat such as fat free or one percent dairy products, lean meats, fish, skinless poultry, whole grain foods and fruit and vegetables.

Michigan State University Extension offers nutrition education classes for adults and youth that include information on healthy fat choices consumers can make. More information can be found at http://msue.anr.msu.edu/topic/info/nutrition.

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