Finding the Best Trans Fat Alternatives

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By now everyone agrees that trans fats are bad for our health.

These fats are created when manufacturers put liquid oils through a process called “hydrogenation.” By adding hydrogen atoms, the oils are converted into solid fats with an extended shelf-life, so they can be readily used in commercial baked goods, stick margarines, snacks, and fast foods.

At one time experts believed trans fats were healthier than Heart Association, we should all limit our trans fat intake to less than 1% of our total daily calories. So if you eat 2,000 calories a day that works to about 20 calories from trans fat – less than 2 grams a day.

Since some whole foods – such as dairy and meat – contain naturally occurring trans fats, the only way to stay under that 2 gram a day limit is to buy snack foods, baked goods, margarine, and fast food with absolutely no trans fats, dietitians say.

But don’t forget about saturated fat. Evaluate the total fat content, including the amount of saturate fat. Choose foods that have the least amount of saturated fat and that use healthy oils, such as canola oil.

Baking Without Trans Fats

For snacks truly free of trans fats, you might want to try the same solution that Grandma used: Make your own.

For those willing to put in the time and effort, baking your own cakes and cookies from scratch may be the way to go. The trick: Combine a healthy liquid fat — like grapeseed oil, walnut oil, or vegetable oil spreads– with a fruit puree like applesauce or prunes for bulk and texture. For healthier french fries, choose an oil without trans fat — such as canola oil — and slice your fries from a whole fresh potato.

Be sure to “count the calories and eat in moderation,” Heller reminds us. Just because an oil is unsaturated, or a cookie homemade, doesn’t mean you won’t gain weight.