Trans Fats -- Just How Bad Are They? (cont.)

Member question: What about butter?

Zelman: As a comparison, butter has 7 grams of saturated fat and .3 grams of trans fat per tablespoon. Tub margarine has 1.2 grams of saturated fat and .6 grams of trans fats per tablespoon. So tub margarine is lower in total fat than butter, even though it's a tiny bit higher in trans fats.

"The American Heart Association advises that healthy Americans age 2 and over limit the fat in their diets."

One of the important messages to understand is to think of trans fats like you think of saturated fats, because they both work similarly in the body. What differentiates an animal saturated fat, such as butter, is that it not only is saturated, it also contains cholesterol. No vegetable product contains cholesterol, only animal products.

Member question: I don't use much, but is it better to use regular butter or tub margarine? I really don't want the trans fats. Are the "butter flavor" sprays OK to use?

Zelman: It's a personal preference. If you prefer to use less butter than tub margarine, that's fine. Likewise, using spray products, either vegetable-based or butter-based, helps limit the amount of fat used in cooking. Whenever possible, it is always a good idea to use vegetable oil instead of a solid margarine or butter.

Member comment: But a piece of toast wouldn't taste right with vegetable oil!

Zelman: True. That's why you can't substitute it at all times.

Member question: Trans fats are still present in fat-free non-dairy creamer when partially hydrogenated oil is one of the ingredients, right? Considering a choice between that and regular half-and-half, which is worse to drink for one cup of coffee a day?

Zelman: Obviously the grams of fat in half-and-half are going to be much greater than that small amount found in the fat-free half-and-half. The bottom line remains that the total amount of fat is always the most important factor. Whenever choosing between two such products, always choose the one with the least amount of fat.

Member question: My question was actually comparing non-dairy fat-free to half-and-half (not half-and-half with fat-free half-and-half). Are trans fats so bad that a small amount of trans fat is worse than a larger amount of regular fat?

Zelman: Actually, the best option is to use skim milk. The reality is, most people don't want skim milk in their coffee, although you might want to try strong coffee with warm skim milk, it's delicious. But regarding your question, choose the lowest-fat option that you prefer.

Moderator: Meaning even the lower-fat version with trans fats is better.

Member question: Trans fats are completely man-made, then? So they are only going to be in processed foods. Is that right?

Zelman: No, that's incorrect. Animal products have small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats that act differently than man-made trans fatty acids. The correlation between trans fats and heart disease is related specifically to the trans fats from vegetable oils. The labeling law will exclude those small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats. They "act differently," which means they're not linked to heart disease

Moderator: What is the reaction of the food manufacturers to this new attention to trans fats? Are they denying trans fats are unhealthy?

Zelman: No, and I think that the bigger picture is showing us that food manufacturers are very interested in providing consumers with more healthful options, such as we've seen with the announcement from Kraft Foods and the changes in Frito-Lay snack foods; they're both making more healthful options and smaller portions in their food lines.

Member question: How long do you think it will take manufacturers to change bread and cracker recipes to trans fat-free? I can't bake bread; I need to be able to grab it at the market.

Zelman: The good news is that most bread does not contain fat. Crackers, on the other hand, do contain trans fats; even the reduced-fat brands can still have trans fats. You need to rely on the label and at this point, choosing crackers with the least amount of total fat is your best bet to limit the amount of trans fats.

Member question: A friend is starting her baby out on cereal and one of the ingredients is hydrogenated canola oil. What will this do to the baby? He's already pretty fat.

Zelman: I would suggest looking for a cereal that does not contain partially hydrogenated fat. And they're out there. You just need to become a savvy label reader.

We are presently experiencing an epidemic of obesity in our country, affecting both kids and adults. Whatever we can do to help get kids to eat less of the kinds of foods loaded with trans fats, and encourage them to go outside and play, will stem the tide of this escalating problem.

Moderator: Before we wrap up for today, Kathleen, do you have any final comments for us?

Zelman: One final note: The American Heart Association advises that healthy Americans age 2 and over limit the fat in their diets. In practical terms, if you limit your intake of fats and oils to five to eight teaspoons per day the American Hearth Association indicates that you're not likely to get an excess of trans fats in your diets.

Moderator: We are out of time. Thanks to Kathleen Zelman for sharing her nutrition knowledge with us today. And thank you members for joining in the discussion.

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