The good, the bad and the creamy: Where newly banned trans fats hide

Willie Grace | 7/2/2015, 11:05 a.m.
If you've ever been concerned about your health, you have probably thought about your diet. One way to improve your ...
Fast food workers relying on government assistance

(CNN) -- Trans-fatty acids (trans fats) are making headlines again. The Food and Drug Administration recently banned these oils from manufactured foods and gave manufacturing companies three years to accomplish this goal. This is a win for Americans' health because trans fats have been shown to raise bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower good cholesterol (HDL), factors that contribute to the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes.

If you've ever been concerned about your health, you have probably thought about your diet. One way to improve your diet is to keep foods as close to their original state as possible. Trans fats are about as far away from "natural" as you can get, and occur when hydrogen is added to a liquid oil molecule -- this turns the liquid oil into a solid. It's cheap. It's unnatural. It's bad for our health.

And many Americans who check food labels for trans fats may not realize that even though the label reads, "Trans fats 0 grams per serving," that does not necessarily mean zero. Manufacturing companies which produce foods containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fats can round that number down to zero. So, you might actually be getting 0.4 grams of trans fats per serving, even though the label reads 0 grams.

If you want to avoid trans fats -- and the American Heart Association suggests that based on a 2,000 calorie diet, individuals should have less than 2 grams of trans fats per day (but the preference is no grams) -- reading the ingredients is key. Look for the warning term "partially hydrogenated oils" (also: partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, partially hydrogenated palm oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and partially hydrogenated canola oil).

So, where do these grams of trans fats go unnoticed? The answer, unfortunately, is everywhere. Here are the top three areas:

The bready

Americans love pie, but lurking in that flaky crust is vegetable shortening, which may contain partially hydrogenated oils. Other items that fall in this category include boxed pancake and waffle mixes, boxed cake mixes and packaged cakes and sweet rolls. If it's something you can make from scratch -- you'll avoid the trans fats and probably walk away with a better tasting item. If it's something you just have to buy already prepared, read the label and ingredients list before buying.

The creamy

Do you take your coffee with artificial creamer or half and half? Ever decorated a cake with packaged icing? What about that "frozen dairy dessert" that tries to pass for ice cream? All of these items use partially hydrogenated oils to help enhance the "creaminess" of the product. Homemade buttercream icing is always going to beat out the packaged stuff, and a little "half and half" in your coffee won't hurt you. As for the ice cream, even if it says 0 grams of trans fats per serving, check the label and ingredients list before purchasing.