Food crime: Adding artery-clogging trans fat to processed food. Chief culprit: Partially
hydrogenated oil. Clue: The words “partially hydrogenated” before any vegetable oil.
Trans fats, or trans-fatty acids, are an artificial byproduct of a chemical process called
hydrogenation, or the addition of hydrogen to a vegetable oil in order to make it more solid, lend the product an enticing “mouth feel” and give it a longer shelf life – even at the expense of shortening the life of anyone eating it.
Partially hydrogenated oils (or PHOs) are harder to digest, and the resulting trans fat reduces the body’s good cholesterol and increases the bad, putting that body at greater risk for heart disease. Though it’s been proclaimed by food authorities as a “bad” ingredient for years, trans fat is still found in everything from microwave popcorn and frozen pizza to margarine, coffee creamer and some desserts. These products don’t necessarily need the trans fat – but a longer shelf life spells greater profit for the food company.
A hidden hazard is the way trans fat may be present even if the “Nutrition Facts” label says otherwise. The rule is, a food product can contain up to half a gram of trans fat per serving and still get away with a label that says it has zero grams. Instead, look for that telltale “Partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients.
Unfortunately, trans fats can also be hidden in frying oils used in restaurants – a good reason to avoid fried food when you eat out.
The Food and Drug Administration announced in November that it had preliminarily determined PHOs are not “generally recognized as safe.” If finalized, PHOs would be deemed “food
additives” and phased out of foods unless authorized by regulation.
So the bottom line is, to avoid trans fats you need to check the ingredient label (not just the nutrition facts label), and avoid anything that lists partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient.