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What Foods Are High in Trans Fat? | 12 Daily Foods to Avoid

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: September 24, 2022

Studies have shown that diets high in trans fatty acids can lead to significant illnesses like cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

They may also lead to an increase in LDL (bad cholesterol) and a decrease in high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol), skewing the lipid balance in your body.

After many hours of going through recent studies and researching the ins and outs of trans fats, I’ve compiled some useful information, as well as a list of food items that you should avoid to reduce trans fat consumption.

Let's take a look.

Quick Summary

  • Artificial trans fats are formed by hydrogenating vegetable oils [1].
  • They have a higher melting point, and they extend the shelf life of products.
  • Trans fats have been linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer [2] [3].

How Does Trans Fat Harm You?

man holding his chest in pain

Trans fat can harm you by contributing to a range of health issues, with cardiovascular disease at the center.

It's also important to note that, unlike from other types of fat, your body doesn't benefit from trans fats at all.

Doctors worry about them because they increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Also, recent studies have shown that trans fats are transferred to the fetus during pregnancy, and they are usually at the same level as that of the mother [4].

This means that a child might suffer from similar health problems in the future.

chocolate cake and popcorn in a bowl

I’ve gathered the list of the top 12 trans-fat-rich food items you should avoid:

1. Processed meat

Naturally occurring trans fats are rare, so a big chunk of artificial trans fats come from processed foods, including sausages, hot dogs, and various meat products that have many ingredients.

It's challenging to avoid artificial trans fats if you love processed meat. However, you can opt for meat varieties with low “bad” fats like fish, which is high in omega 3 fatty acids, lean meat, chicken, or turkey.

2. Vegetable Shortening

Vegetable shortening is mostly vegetable fat that has been hydrogenated and therefore solidifies at room temperature. It’s mainly used to make pastries, and some people use it as a substitute for lard and butter.

Companies can also write 0 grams of trans fats if their products have less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving. But if you're consuming a lot of pastry, those values will quickly reach unhealthy levels.

3. Fast and Fried Foods

meal of burger and french fries

Most eat-on-the-go foods like fried chicken, battered fish, french fries, hamburgers, and fried noodles have trans fats.

This is because vegetable oils and trans fats used to fry foods can soak into the foods you eat.

Vegetable fat denatures with high cooking temperatures, especially if it’s being reused many times.

4. Vegetable Oils and Margarine

Some kinds of margarine contain up to two grams of trans fats per teaspoonful, while some vegetable oils contain up to 0.4% to 4.2% of trans fats if they're hydrogenated.

“A lot of people had made their careers telling people to eat margarine instead of butter, and unfortunately, we were often sending them to their graves prematurely.”

- Walter Willett, Chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health

Trans fat-free oils aren’t hydrogenated. You can use healthier alternative oils such as virgin olive oil or coconut oil for cooking or using butter instead of margarine.

5. Cakes and Pies

Like vegetable shortening producers, cakes and pies bakers can write 0 grams of trans fatty acids if their products contain less than 0.5 g of trans fats per serving.

But it isn't easy to stick to one serving per day. If you consume several servings, you can accumulate trans fat in your body and risk getting an arterial blockage in the long run.

6. Non-Dairy Coffee Creamers

coffee creamer in a coffee cup

Coffee whiteners are used to substitute milk and cream in your beverages.

Their ingredients are sugar and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

If you find partially hydrogenated oil in your coffee creamer ingredients, then it most probably contains trans fats. You can use whole milk, cream, or low-fat dairy products without partially hydrogenated oils.

7. Microwave popcorn

Air-popped popcorn is a great source of fiber and vitamins, but microwaved popcorn can be hazardous. This is because it contains partially hydrogenated oil.

If you prefer microwaved popcorn, choose brands that do not contain hydrogenated oil. However, it's highly recommended that you make your popcorn on a stovetop or in an air popper.

8. Frozen Dinners

Frozen ready-to-eat foods like pizzas are high in carbs, sugar, and salt. They contain up to 1 gram of trans fats per serving, but remember, you can consume a lot of servings without realizing just how much you ate.

In addition to artificial trans fat, frozen dinners are high in sodium, with the worst meals containing up to 700 grams per serving.

9. Pancakes and Waffles

stack of waffles with butter

Pancakes and waffles often contain 2 grams of trans fats per serving.

They're made with refined flour and high amounts of sugar.

They can contribute to insulin resistance and increase the risk of obesity and other diseases like type 2 diabetes.

10. Ice Cream

Certain flavors of ice cream frozen desserts contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, but some of them can contain much more.

If you see partially hydrogenated oil in the product's ingredients, that ice cream has trans fats.

11. Meat and Dairy

Meat and dairy products contain trans fats that occur naturally [5]. Although scientists are yet to find out whether natural trans fats are as harmful as artificial ones, many still believe that consuming meat and dairy low in trans fat is a good idea.

The World Health Organization recommends consuming less than 4% trans fats in your total calorie intake per day. So avoid things like processed cheeses which can contain up to 10% of trans fat.

12. Biscuits and Crackers

biscuits

Most food processing companies use trans fats to give biscuits the crunchy texture most people associate with them.

These fats also increase the shelf life of the products, allowing the companies to sell the products for longer without spoiling.

If you make your biscuits at home, use healthy fats and less sugar or substitute refined sugars.

But if you buy ready-to-eat biscuits and crackers, read the nutrition label to see if they have ingredients that contain trans fats.

Related Articles:

How To Reduce Trans Fat in Your Diet?

There are several ways to reduce trans fat in your diet, and doing so means potentially avoiding excessive weight gain and reducing the risks of several diseases. Here are some things you can do:

  • Read product ingredients and avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oils.
  • Avoid commercially baked and processed foods like pies, donuts, snack foods, and fast food.
  • Use healthier oils such as olive and coconut, or use butter instead of margarine.
  • Avoid trans fat from fried foods.

FAQs

Are There Naturally Occurring Trans Fat?

Yes. Some trans fats occur naturally in the gut of some animals. You can also find natural trans fat in animal products such as meat and milk [6].

How Much Trans Fat Can I Eat a Day?

There's no safe amount of trans fat. However, since it's difficult to avoid them, the American Heart Association recommends that at most 1% of your daily calory intake comes from trans fats.

Which Oils Don’t Have Trans Fat?

Top liquid vegetable oils low in trans fats include olive oil, avocado oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil, coconut oil, and soybean oil.

Wrapping Up: Foods With Trans Fat

Trans fats can be much more hazardous to your health than other types of fat. Therefore, you should try a healthy diet that doesn’t contain trans fats to avoid severe health conditions such as coronary heart disease and cancer.

You can reduce trans fat content if you avoid eating foods that have been processed, baked goods, fast food, frozen pizzas, and pie crusts.

One of the more convenient and healthier ways is opting for some of the best paleo meal delivery services. Since trans fat is highly restricted in the paleo diet, you don’t need to worry about the ingredients.

By avoiding trans fat, you’ll lower your risk for many chronic diseases, manage your weight more naturally, and possibly extend not just your lifespan but your “healthspan” as well.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921725
  2. https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/79/7/758/5954179
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3551118/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3551118/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2596737/
  6. https://www.cardiosmart.org/news/2015/10/trans-fats-especially-from-dairy-and-meat-safe-in-small-quantities

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