If there’s one secret culprit sabotaging our health, it’s trans fats. These oils and fats, also known as trans-fatty acids, clog blood vessels and increase your risk of heart disease. Most commonly added to baked goods such as chips, crackers, cookies, and other processed foods, trans fat is considered the worst type of fat to eat because they raise LDL, or “bad” cholesterol and also lower HDL, or “good” cholesterol. The more trans you eat, the greater the risk of heart and blood vessel disease.
And while the F.D.A. banned the harmful fats in 2018, they are still lurking in many foods because a label can list a food as trans fat-free if it contains 0.5 grams per serving or less. This sounds like a tiny amount but it adds up because manufacturers often reduce portion sizes on labels to get around the rule. In other words, if a label says a quarter cup of something is trans fat-free, that doesn’t mean that a full cup – the typical portion – doesn’t contain them.
What to do? Search ingredient lists for the words “partially hydrogenated” or “shortening” and be on the alert for the foods most likely to contain trans fat. Here are the most frequent offenders:
1. Partially hydrogenated oils. Prepackaged baked goods of all kinds use these chemically treated fats to stay fresh and maintain their texture. Culprits can include crackers (including wheat, stone ground, and other so-called “healthy” varieties) cookies, cakes, frozen pizza, and refrigerated dough (biscuits and cinnamon rolls).
2. Rich treats. If a store-bought food has a rich, creamy texture, there’s a good chance that texture comes at least partially from trans fat. Examples include frozen desserts, tinned frosting, pudding, and coffee creamer. Avoid them or keep portion sizes down, and when possible replace with the natural or homemade alternative.
3. Battered and fried foods. Any fried food may be cooked in partially hydrogenated oils, so beware of fried chicken, breaded fish, onion rings, and other similar foods. Stick to homemade versions and whole foods for a healthier choice.
4. Secret hideouts. Here are a few more surprising places trans fats hide:
- Microwave popcorn
- Canned chili
- French fries
- Crispy Asian noodles
- Ice cream
- Potato chips
- Pie and piecrust Cake mixes
- Pancake and waffle mix
- Fast-food breakfast sandwiches
- Slim Jims and other pre-cooked meat sticks
- Frozen dinners
Where can you spot – and avoid – trans fats today?