On June 16, the FDA announced that partially hydrogenated oils — the main source of trans fat in the American diet – are no longer “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS). As a result, they must be removed from foods by June 2018. Partially hydrogenated oils are liquid fats that have been altered so that they are solid at room temperature. Consumption of these fats has been shown to decrease levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) while simultaneously elevating levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), contributing to heart disease. A diet high in trans fats is also associated with weight gain and an increased risk of Type II Diabetes.
Sources of Trans Fats
Trans fats are most commonly found in processed foods. While the packaged snacks sold at the UVM Medical Center do not contain trans fat, many packaged foods in the grocery store do. Pie crusts, frozen pizza crusts, cookies, cakes, crackers, coffee creamers, pre-made frosting, and microwave popcorn are some of the most substantial contributors of trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils. There is a small amount of naturally-occurring trans fats in some meats and dairy products. However, unlike partially hydrogenated oils, these trans fats may not have the same negative effect on health as artificial trans fats and will not be banned.
Implications of the Trans Fat Ban
Prior to the ban, foods could be labeled as containing “zero trans fat” if they contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. Many food producers changed their serving sizes to fit into these labeling guidelines, while continuing to use the same recipes with hydrogenated oils. The ban of partially hydrogenated oils should eliminate this loophole, so in the future, you can feel confident that your foods do not contain artificial trans fat. If you’re worried that your favorite food will taste different after trans fat is replaced, fear not! Food manufacturers have three years to create alternate recipes, ensuring that foods will still taste great. At the same time, the number of heart attacks and deaths from heart disease in the United States are expected to drop significantly in the years following the ban.
Healthy Fats and Healthy Snacks
While trans fat does not contribute to a well-balanced diet, other types of fat are essential to maintaining health. or example, unsaturated fats have been shown to decrease LDL and raise HDL cholesterol levels, lowering your risk for heart disease. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are usually found in plants and fatty fish. Foods high in unsaturated fats include peanuts, walnuts, almonds, avocadoes, flaxseed, tuna, mackerel, salmon and vegetable oils.
You don’t have to wait until 2018 to eliminate trans fats. There are lots of ways to replace snacks that contain trans fat with snacks that are healthy and easy to eat on the go. For a fiber-rich treat that’s full of healthy fats, make trail mix by combining your favorite seeds, nuts, and dried fruits. You can also bake a batch of muffins and freeze them, taking one out in the morning to thaw for your afternoon snack. Muffins with walnuts, flaxseed, or fruit are a delicious way to eat healthfully.
- Click here for a recipe for blueberry corn muffins.
- Air-popped or stove top popcorn are great-tasting alternative snacks. In less than five minutes, your popcorn will be ready for a sprinkling of grated cheese, brewer’s yeast, or garlic powder.
- Finally, if pizza is what you’re craving, you can save time by making it on fresh bread; just place the toppings on a slice of bread instead of pizza dough and bake until the cheese melts. Click here for a recipe for spinach and tomato pizza.
Quick and easy snacks like these will help increase your fruit and vegetable intake while ensuring that you aren’t eating artificial trans fat!
Amy Sercel is student in the University of Vermont Master of Science in Dietetics program. She is completing her clinical rotations with Nutrition Services at the University of Vermont Medical Center.