|Trans fat can make food taste good, last longer on grocery-store shelves, and more hazardous for your heart. |
"Trans fats raise your bad cholesterol just like saturated fats, but they also increase inflammation and lower the good cholesterol that protects us against heart disease," says Andrea Giancoli, RD, MPH, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, in Hermosa Beach, Calif.
The good news? Many food manufacturers and fast-food chains have removed or reduced trans fat. But it still lurks in many foods—here are 22 to watch.
|Trans fat is made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil. |
Many restaurant chains have stopped frying food in hydrogenated oils, and recent research found that five in particular—McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Jack in the Box, and Dairy Queen—had significantly reduced trans-fat levels in french fries.
But others have been slow to embrace the trend: A large Cajun fries from Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, for example, still contains 3.5 grams of trans fat.
|Nutritional information might be harder to find for independent restaurants and local eateries than the big chains, says Giancoli, so it's smart to assume that anything fried or battered may have trans fat. |
"You can certainly ask about the oil that the food is fried in," she says. "But even if they say vegetable oil, it could still be hydrogenated."
Your best bet, she adds, is generally to limit consumption of fried foods, which aren't the best for you, trans fat or not.
|Baked products are notorious for containing trans fat, but many major restaurant chains (such as McDonald's and Burger King) have removed hydrogenated oils from their apple pies. |
You can still find the trans-fat varieties in your grocery store, however: Many varieties of Marie Callender’s frozen fruit and cream pies have between 2 and 4.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
As for piecrust, Pillsbury Pet-Ritz Frozen Deep Dish All Vegetable piecrust contains 1.5 grams of trans fat per serving. Look for one without hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list.
|Not so long ago, margarine was marketed as a healthier alternative to butter because it's made from vegetable oil instead of dairy or animal products. But for the margarine to maintain its solid form, many brands (especially stick varieties) depend on hydrogenated oils and are high in trans fat and/or saturated fat. |
Steer clear of Shedd’s Spread Country Crock Spreadable Sticks (2 grams trans fat per serving), Blue Bonnet Regular Sticks (1.5 grams per serving), Land O'Lakes margarine sticks (2.5 grams per serving), and Fleischmann's original stick margarine (1.5 grams per serving), and instead opt for whipped, reduced-fat, or fat-free soft spreads.
|Crisco has come a long way in terms of trans fat—so far, in fact, that according to the label, the popular shortening now contains 0 grams. But a closer look at the ingredients list shows that partially hydrogenated oils are still there. |
Companies are allowed to round down and put “0 grams” on the nutrition label if their product has less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving. But if you do a lot of baking—or a lot of eating once the cookies come out of the oven—those trace amounts can add up to unhealthy levels.
|Even if you find a cake or muffin mix that's trans fat-free, you could still see the telltale word "shortening" on many ingredients lists, which means there are trace amounts. |
Plus, you still need to worry about how you're going to top your creation. Duncan Hines's frostings contain 1.5 grams per serving, while Betty Crocker's contain up to 2 grams. (Betty Crocker's homestyle fluffy white frosting mix, however, is trans fat-free.)
|Pancake and waffle mixes, too, often contain hydrogenated oils. |
Bisquick's original pancake mix still contains 1.5 grams trans fat per serving, so opt for the newer (and trans-fat free) Bisquick Complete, Gluten Free, or Heart Smart formulas.
|Although you are less likely to find trans fat in frozen fried chicken, including Banquet and Walmart brands, there are still some offenders out there: Kid Cuisine All American Fried Chicken meal—a children's product—has 1 gram of trans fat. |
Dining out at a restaurant? The same rules that apply to french fries apply to fried chicken (and fried fish, for that matter), says Giancoli. Unless you know an establishment does not fry in hydrogenated oils, assume that it does—or ask for clarification.
|Certain flavors of Haagen-Dazs ice cream—including pineapple-coconut, cherry-vanilla, caramel cone, green tea, and even plain old vanilla—contain 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. But if you read the ingredients list, the telltale listing of partially hydrogenated oils is missing. |
That is probably because there are naturally occurring trans fats in fat-containing dairy products, says Giancoli. However, it is not clear if these naturally occurring trans fats are as bad for you as the trans fats in processed food. They're high in calories, however, so you should still watch your intake.
|For coffee lovers, nondairy creamers can become an integral part of your morning. Over time, however, they can also add a considerable amount of trans fat to your diet. Take Coffee-Mate products, for example: Each serving contains 0 grams trans fat, yet, for most flavors (even the fat-free and low-fat varieties), partially hydrogenated oils are the second or third ingredient listed. |
"At breakfast when you're making coffee, you're not usually thinking about nutrition or reading labels," says Giancoli. "The amounts can really sneak up on you if you drink a lot of coffee."
|Popcorn in itself is a healthy snack, and a serving of whole grains to boot. But when you pour on the gooey toppings, there's no telling what you're really adding. |
Case in point: Orville Redenbacher's microwave popcorn. The Pour Over Movie Theater butter flavor contains 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, and the Pour Over Caramel flavor contains 1.5 grams.
Pop Secret is even worse: The butter and extra-butter flavors each contain 5 grams of trans fat per serving—about 15 grams per bag!
|Just as with dairy products, beef can also contain natural trans fat. So although the big chains have worked hard to remove hydrogenated oils from their fried foods, most restaurant burgers still contain significant levels of trans fat. |
You'll also find trans fat in many frozen burgers, beef sausages, beef hot dogs, and ground beef.
"Most of us should be reducing our consumption of animal products anyway, so it's a good idea to limit these products and choose plant-based foods instead," says Giancoli.
|Oreos phased out trans fat in 2006 after Kraft Foods was sued by the Campaign to Ban Partially Hydrogenated Oils. (The lawsuit was dismissed.) Chips Ahoy!, Nilla Wafers, and Girl Scout cookies also now fall below 0.5 grams per serving, although some still contain partially hydrogenated oils. |
Check other store-bought cookies and cookie dough: Carr's ginger-lemon creme cookies contain 2 grams of trans fat per serving and Pillsbury's Ready To Bake cookies contain up to 2.5 grams of trans fat per serving. "Anything that can sit on a shelf or in a package for a while needs to be stabilized, which often means it's hydrogenated," Giancoli says.
|Many chains—Burger King, McDonald's, and Popeyes—now offer biscuits with 0 grams of trans fat per serving. Although most Cinnabon locations are trans fat–free (including all locations in California and New York), it still creeps into the products at some. Krispy Kreme's large cinnamon and pecan rolls still have 1 gram each. |
And check the grocery-store type. Pillsbury's refrigerated Grands! Homestyle Butter Tastin' and Grands! Homestyle Buttermilk contain 3 grams each. The brand's caramel and Cinnabon cinnamon rolls with icing contain 1 and 2 grams of trans fat per serving, respectively, and many of the varieties that list 0 grams still contain hydrogenated oil.
|Doughnuts are often the poster-child food for trans fat, but in 2007, Dunkin' Donuts reformulated their menu so most items now contain 0 grams per serving (or at least fall below 0.5 grams). |
Unfortunately that's not always true for breakfast sandwiches served on biscuits, such as Burger King's, some of which contain 1 gram of trans fat. And at the grocery store, steer clear of Jimmy Dean packaged sandwiches, which have up to 3 grams of trans fat each.
|Krispy Kreme has also reduced trans fats in their doughnuts to below 0.5 grams per serving, but there's still a surprising non-doughnut source of trans fat on their menu—the worst item on our list, in fact. |
A 20-ounce Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Arctic Avalanche contains a whopping 9 grams of trans fat. Across the board, many of the restaurant shakes and creamy drinks we looked at contained a gram or two (hot chocolate beverages too), but nothing came close to this over-the-top blend of soft-serve ice cream and cookie dough mix-ins.
|You're packing more than just protein when you snap into a Slim Jim: The Giant size Dare and Monster versions of this jerky strip contain 1 and either 1.5 or 2 grams of trans fat, respectively. (The original, smaller snack sticks also contain trans fat, which occurs naturally in beef, in smaller amounts.) |
Instead of processed meat sticks, aim to eat more plant-based snacks such as fruit or raw vegetables. And get most of your protein from heart-healthy fish, poultry, lentils, soybeans, and nuts.
|Nabisco's Premium Saltines, Stoned Wheat Thins, and Ritz have trans-fat levels below 0.5 grams per serving, but some varieties contain partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil in their ingredients lists. If you eat more than a few crackers, even this small amount will add up. |
To be sure you're buying crackers that contain no trans fat, Giancoli suggests reading the ingredients list before even looking at the nutrition label. Choose snacks that avoid hydrogenated oils altogether, such as Stacy's Pita Chips or Annie's Bunnies.
|"Read labels carefully when you're in the frozen-foods section," says Giancoli. They are likely to contain trans fat not just to make the foods more stable but also to give them a fattier feel in your mouth, she adds. |
Frozen dinners and microwave meals are some of the biggest problems. Marie Callender's country fried beef, grilled chicken bake, tortellini Romano, and fettuccini alfredo dinners, for example, all contain at least 0.5 grams of trans fat each.
|La Choy's ready-to-eat chow mein and rice noodles can provide a tasty crunch in salads or stir-fries, but they also deliver 1.5 grams of trans fat per 1/2-cup serving. (For a similar but heart-healthy crunch, try slivered almonds instead.) |
Hydrogenated oils can also lurk in packages of ramen noodles and microwave soup cups.
|Several varieties of Wolf Brand canned chili—with and without beans—contain between 1 and 1.5 grams of trans fat per serving. |
A better bet is the company's trans-fat free turkey chili, which also has fewer calories and less saturated fat.
|Snack Pack's Dessert Twists Caramel Cream Pudding may be "made with real nonfat milk," but it's far from a health food. The caramel cream flavor contains 1 gram of trans fat, and all flavors pack between 8% and 10% of your daily allowance for saturated fat. |
The brand's other flavors all claim no trans fat on their nutrition labels, but it's a good idea to read the ingredients list of any pudding or creamy dessert to rule out low levels of hydrogenated oils flying under the radar.