The trans fat revolution started in Chicago and New York, two cities known for their foodie culture. Here, the city officials cited the adverse effect of trans fats on the heart in banning these man-made fats from restaurant menus. Soon, other jurisdictions including Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New Hampshire also filed bills with the same purpose. Many restaurant chains also adopted a “no trans fat” policy in its food preparation – and it’s a good thing, indeed!
Of course, while restaurants may be among the biggest transgressors in trans fats, these aren’t the only violators. Consumers should also beware about the processed foods available in supermarkets and groceries that contain high amounts of trans fats.
But if you want to skip the trans fats in restaurants, you should know more about them. Here’s a basic guide.
Tiny But Unhealthy
Emphasis must be made first that trans fats are naturally found in many foods like milk, butter and meat albeit in tiny amounts. These manmade fats, however, are commonly found in deep-fried and baked foods cooked in partially hydrogenated vegetable fats. The foods with high amounts of trans fats include cakes, cookies, chips, crackers, and fries.
Most trans fats are made from liquid vegetable oils that, when subjected to the hydrogenation process, will turn into a partially solid product. Hydrogenation means hydrogen was added to the mix while a hydrogenated produce means it has been subjected to such process.
But trans fats weren’t the bad guys, so to speak, they are nowadays. These were originally touted as the healthy alternative to saturated fats, as well as used in a wide range of culinary purposes. The partially hydrogenated vegetable fats improved the shelf life, stability and texture in foods, maintained freshness in bakery goods, and even improved the quality of certain foods. Their use resulted in flakier crusts in pies, crunchier mouth-feel in cookies, and creamier feel in frosting.
No wonder that these were staple items in American households with a wide range of uses in fried and baked foods.
But scientists began discovering the harmful effects of trans fats on the body. Nowadays, we know that partially hydrogenated vegetable fats were just as capable as saturated fats in clogging arteries, raising LDL cholesterol levels, and reducing HDL cholesterol.
And it doesn’t stop there either! Trans fats also contain high levels of calories and, thus, can contribute to unwanted weight gain. Such is their negative effects that the U.S. Department of Agriculture warned consumers about limiting the intake of foods high in trans fats and saturated fats.
Lengthy List of Foods
Studies have shown that the following foods have the highest levels of trans fats, especially when served in restaurants:
- Cakes, cookies and pies, particularly the ones with frosting
- Biscuits (i.e., trans fats use result in flakier texture)
- Microwaveable breakfast sandwiches
- Crackers (i.e., trans fats are behind their long shelf life)
- Microwave popcorn, especially the flavored and buttered varieties
- Fried fast-food fare and deep-fried treats at fairs and the like
- Frozen pizzas
While you can’t entirely avoid these foods, especially when you live a hectic lifestyle where food convenience is a must, you can reduce your consumption. Better yet, you can make healthier decisions in your food choices!
Making Your Choices
When in you’re a restaurant, you can actually avoid trans fats by avoiding the fried foods as much as possible. But if you can’t do so for any reason, you should ask the chef about the type of oil that they use for frying and base your decision from there. You may have to make sacrifices if you’re determined to enjoy the benefits of a healthier diet.
But if you don’t feel confident yet about your willpower to resist temptation, you can choose to go to a restaurant serving salads and the like, such as Souplantation. You can then enjoy a flavorful and filling meal without exposing yourself to too much trans fats, sodium and sugar since fresh fruit or vegetable salads have little to none of them.
Lest you think that reducing or removing trans fats from your diet is all there is to it, think again! You have to understand that reaping the fruits of a healthy lifestyle doesn’t begin and end with trans fats avoidance. Instead, it’s a total lifestyle change that involves:
- Engaging in moderate intensity physical exercise, such as cycling, running, and swimming, at least three times a week for 30 minutes or more each session
- Limiting portion sizes and adopting a balanced diet with the right proportion of carbs, protein and fats.
- Choosing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, cold-water fish, and either low-fat or non-fat dairy products instead of junk food.
- Adopting effective stress management techniques.
In the end, trans fats are just part of the equation and there’s no sense in blaming restaurants for your unhealthy eating habits. The change starts with you and you should act on your desired changes now.