Confused about trans fats? You are not the only one. See our handy list of the 10 worst transfat food culprits to avoid below.
Until UK food manufacturers, retailers and fast food outlets eliminate trans fats from their products completely, avoid these 10 processed foods that can contain trans fats;
- Margarine. Some brands have removed transfats, but check for ‘mono and diglycerides of fatty acids’’.
Tip. Use butter sparingly instead.
- Artificial (non dairy) creams and instant sauces. Check the label of instant custards and artificial cream for hydrogenated vegetable oil.
Tip: Make your own custard and use real cream.
- Fast food / takeaways. Most fried food; fries, chicken and deep-fried foods use partially hydrogenated oil. It’s tricky, because even when the restaurant outlet don’t use transfats, foods like fries are sometimes partially fried in trans fat before they’re shipped to the restaurant.
Tip: Skip the pies and fries.
- Baked goods (cookies, biscuits etc). Yes your favourite muffin or biscuit bought from the supermarket may contain trans fats. In fact, trans fats are used in commercially baked products more than any other foods. Watch out for cookies and cakes with shortening-based frostings, some supermarket bakeries use plenty of trans fat.
Tip: Put your pinny on and bake them yourself.
- Cake and biscuit mixes. Look out for partially hydrogenated soybean and / or cottonseed oil.
Tip: Add baking powder and flour to your shopping basket and do it your self.
- Frozen pizza. A serving of certain brands of frozen pizza can contain up to 4 grams of these harmful trans fats.
Tip: Check the ingredients or make your own.
- Microwave meals. Frozen dinners are often loaded with trans-fat.
Tip: Check the ingredients, or make a bulk pot of home made stew to make dinners quicker and easier during the working week.
- Donuts. Even donuts from supermarket bakeries use transfats. Watch out for Emulsifiers (Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids) on the label.
- Frozen pies. Often somewhere in a very long list of ingredients you will find emulsifier (Mono and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids). Avoid.
- Ice Cream. Yes, that joyful spoon is a fat bomb heading straight for your stomach. Read the ingredients list, and put any products containing emulsifier (Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids) back on the shelf.
If in doubt…
Always check the ingredients lists for hydrogenated fats or hydrogenated vegetable oils because food manufacturers in the UK do not have to label trans fats.
Anytime you read ‘partially hydrogenated oil’ or ‘hydrogenated oil’ on the list of ingredients, it means the foods in question contains trans fats. Also, watch out for ingredients listed as ‘mono and diglycerides of fatty acids’ which are often listed on donuts, ice-cream and even bread.
If you enjoy a cheeky take away at the weekend – beware! Fast food shops and chains re-use cooking oils which will create even more trans fats. Always ask them how often they change their oil and which oil they use. Or a better solution – just don’t go!
What’s the fuss about trans fats?
Trans fats are in the news because the US is going to ban trans fats. Yes, coming from the country that has ‘fries with everything’, it’s a big deal.
Since US companies were forced to label trans fats the consumption has dropped by about 78%. The FDA (powerful food banning arm of the federal government) expect an all out ban to reduce the number of patients with coronary heart disease and heart attacks.
The bottom line
Industrial trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils are toxic. They have no nutritional value whatsoever! Avoid them! These artificial fats are introduced into our foods during the making of processed and fried foods. Processed foods typically include anything that is put into a can, packaged into a box or bag.
What are trans fats?
Also known as trans fatty acids or TFA, they are fats that are found in small amounts in a large variety of foods. They are artificially made when vegetable oils are hydrogenated, by using a kind of turkey baster that injects hydrogen atoms into a liquid (eg. unsaturated fat – a good fat) fat, making them more solid. These hardened fats are then used in cooking, baking, to lengthen the shelf life of products you buy in the supermarket.
(Note: Natural trans fats are found in grass-fed meats and dairy products that come from pasture-raised animal. These are the exception to the rule when talking about trans fats and are called conjugated linoleic acids or CLA. CLA has both anticancer and antiobesity properties…and is good for you, unlike man-made trans fats. What we’re concerned about here is, the artificial ones made industrially by food manufacturers to keep supermarket food fresher longer).
Should I be concerned?
Yes. Here in the UK they are not banned. We rely on an informal agreement called the Responsibility Deal that relies on the industry to self regulate and to reduce trans fats in our food. We don’t even label them properly in the UK!
Despite the protestations from the food industry that everything is ‘heading in the right direction’ and that we don’t need to ban them, trans fats are still in a huge range of foods – many of which are aimed at children.
Just think about it… ice creams, sweets, cereal bars, sweets, cookies, chocolate, stuffing mixes, margarine, ready made cakes, microwave ready meals. So although the amounts in each food product may be small, if you are eating a lot of processed foods your overall intake of this toxic ingredient will add up.
Why hasn’t the UK banned trans fats?
All the experts agrees that trans fats have no known health benefits but have clear health risks. The consumption of trans fats has been linked to coronary heart disease, stroke, elevated blood pressure, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, prostate and breast cancers, Type 2 diabetes, liver dysfunction, infertility, depression, and even aggression. Wow, that’s a lot of problems.
Written in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on the 16th September 2015, experts said around 7,200 deaths from heart disease could be prevented in England over the next five years if the artificial fats were banned. That’s a saving of approximately £265m a year, according to a study in the BMJ.
- In The Telegraph, Dr Tim Chico, a consultant cardiologist at the University of Sheffield, said it was clear that artificially-manufactured trans fats, “whose use only benefits the food industry”, increase the risk of heart disease.
- In The Independent, Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said that trans fats had no known benefits and “clear health risks” adding that other countries were “well ahead of us” in efforts to cut back consumption.
Yet, despite Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Sweden, Austria and now the US all banning trans fats outright, the UK government will continue with an informal approach where the food industry is allowed to self regulate their use of trans fat in processed foods.
Where does responsibility lie?
Unlike the US’s decision to ban trans fats by 2018, the UK’s government’s agreement with large manufacturers of processed foods is a voluntary arrangement called the Responsibility Deal. Within the ‘Responsibility Deal’ manufacturers have pledged that they are committed to removing trans fats from their food products.
So, in reality, the responsibility is on you, not the government, food manufacturers or retailers. Trust the food manufacturers to put people before profit or educate yourself and avoid all foods with hydrogenated fats or hydrogenated vegetable oils in the ingredients list.
More reading on Trans Fats