Which Foods Contain Trans Fats?

Trans fats are a type of fat found in some foods. They can be artificially added or naturally occurring. Natural trans fats are found in very small amounts in certain animal products. On the other hand, artificially added trans fats are formed due to a chemical reaction and are included in a variety of food products during the manufacturing process.

There are studies that suggest that both types of trans fats may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease by increasing your LDL cholesterol and lowering your HDL cholesterol; however, the studies examining heart disease risk with naturally occurring trans fats are conflicting. There is also some evidence that artificial trans fats may induce inflammation, which may also contribute to cardiovascular disease. Because of this, trans fats should be limited in your diet.

How Are Trans Fats Formed?

Trans fats can be artificially formed through a chemical process called hydrogenation, which bombards an unsaturated fatty acid with hydrogen molecules and results in the formation of hydrogens on opposite sides of a double bond in their chemical structure. Inducing the formation of trans fats has some advantages for food manufacturers. Adding trans fats can aid in extending the shelf-life of certain foods. It also helps some fats become more solid at room temperature and makes some foods more palatable.

Foods Containing Trans Fats

Although meat and dairy products may contain a tiny amount of naturally occurring trans fats, artificially-added trans fats are of most concern due to their presence and high content in some foods. These trans fats are most commonly introduced into foods through partially hydrogenated oils (sometimes referred to as PHOs) during the manufacturing process. The following foods may be made with partially hydrogenated oils and should be avoided, due to their ability to raise cholesterol and your risk of heart disease:

  • Fast foods — including tater tots, and French fries
  • Some spreads — such as margarine spreads or peanut butter
  • Some snack foods — such as chips, crackers, and cookies
  • Fried foods — including fried chicken, onion rings, and nuggets
  • Nondairy creamer
  • Pre-prepared cake frostings
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Commercially pre-prepared products, such as pie crusts, pizza dough, and cookie dough
  • Some pastries, donuts, and pies

Because of the risk that artificial trans fats pose in increasing your risk of heart disease, the FDA began requiring food manufacturers to list the amount of trans fats per serving on the food package labeling in 2006.

In 2015, the FDA declared artificial trans fats as “generally not recognized as safe” due to studies linking high trans fat consumption with cardiovascular disease. After further investigation into the effects of artificial trans fats, the FDA ruled that food manufacturers needed to find alternative measures in preparing their processed foods that would eliminate the use of PHOs, the major source of artificial trans fat in the food supply. Food manufacturers had until June 2018 to develop ways to manufacture their foods without these fats, or ask the FDA to use these fats in specific cases. The deadline was then extended it to January 1, 2020.

How You Can Reduce the Amount of Trans Fats in Your Diet

The American Heart Association recommends limiting — and even avoiding — the consumption of trans fats in a healthy diet. Although most food products should be free of trans fats, you can still reduce the amount of trans fats consumed in your lipid-lowering diet by:

  • Checking the nutrition label on the back of your food package. This should list the amount of trans fats per serving in the food product. However, if the amount of trans fats per serving is less than 0.5 mg, food manufacturers may not specifically list trans fat content on the package.
  • Limit the amount of the foods you consume from the list above. Even though there is a move to remove all artificial trans fats from food products, foods like pastries, fast foods, fried foods, and vegetable shortening are still high in calories and saturated fat — both of which can have a negative impact on your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
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