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Nutrition 101: Experts Agree on Limiting Trans Fats

August 30, 2019

With all the conflicting nutrition information available, making healthy choices can be confusing. One topic all experts agree on is trans fats – they have no known health benefits and should be limited in our diet as much as possible.

According to the American Heart Association, there are small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats in some meat and animal products. Currently, there is little research on the effects of naturally occurring trans fats on our health. There is, however, enough to support the removal of artificial trans fats from our diets and food supply.

Where did trans fats come from?

Trans fats were artificially introduced into our food system as a way to increase shelf life of prepared food products. Through a process called hydrogenation, liquid oils (typically healthier for your heart) were made into solid oils. When used in foods, they helped to create a product with better texture, taste and a longer shelf life.

Sounds good for our food products, but what about our health? It turns out they are double trouble! Trans fats lower our HDL (good cholesterol) and raise our LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.

Some examples of foods that contain trans fats are bakery products like packaged cookies and cakes, snacks such as chips or popcorn, fried foods, margarines and refrigerated doughs. Due to recent changes, many of these products no longer contain trans fats.

As of 2013, the FDA determined trans fats were no longer Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for human consumption. Since then, companies have worked to phase them out of the food supply. Per the FDA, as of June 2018, trans fats can no longer be added to new products placed on the market. Older products have until January 2020 to remove trans fats from food.

What should you look for?

While there have been many good changes, some products still contain significant amounts of trans fats. It's important to take a good look at those nutrition labels before purchasing. What should you look for?

Trans fats are required to appear on food labels. You'll find it nestled under total fat and saturated fat. Even if the label says zero grams, it can still contain trace amounts. The law says labels may state zero if they're less than 0.5 grams per serving. To find out if a product contains any trans fats, always check the ingredients list for any hydrogenated oils. This is a sign the oils used have gone through the hydrogenation process. Put the product back and look for a newer alternative.

Soon, buying products free of trans fats will be a no-brainer. Until then, take your health back into your hands.

To find out more information on how small changes to your diet can help with your health goals, contact your UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown dietitians at (641) 854-7530 or dietitians@unitypoint.org.

You may also learn more about UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown’s Medical Weight Loss Clinic.

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