Become a better shopper -- learn to avoid the foods high in trans fats
By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature
Reviewed By Charlotte E. Grayson, MD
If you're like most people, you're probably confused about trans fats. Which foods have them, and which don't? Which are the worst foods, which are the best?
Print out this list to become a wiser, safer shopper. And remember to check the food labels. Manufacturers will probably begin reducing the amount of trans fats in packaged foods during the next few years, so this information may change.
The Top 10 "Trans Fat" Foods:
1. Spreads. Margarine is a twisted sister -- it's loaded with trans fats and saturated fats, both of which can lead to heart disease. Other non-butter spreads and shortening also contain large amounts of trans fat and saturated fat:
- Stick margarine has 2.8 grams of trans fat per tablespoon, and 2.1 grams of saturated fat.
- Tub margarine has 0.6 grams of trans fat per tablespoon, and 1.2 grams of saturated fat.
- Shortening has 4.2 grams of trans fat per tablespoon, and 3.4 grams of saturated fat.
- Butter has 0.3 grams of trans fat per tablespoon, and 7.2 grams of saturated fat.
Tip: Look for soft-tub margarine, because it is less likely to have trans fat. Some margarines already say that on the packaging.
[Important note: When you cook with margarine or shortening, you will not increase the amount of trans fat in food, says Moore. Cooking is not the same as the hydrogenation process. "Margarine and shortening are already bad, but you won't make them any worse."]
2. Packaged foods. Cake mixes, Bisquick, and other mixes all have several grams of trans fat per serving.
Tip: Add flour and baking powder to your grocery list; do-it-yourself baking is about your only option right now, says Moore. Or watch for reduced-fat mixes.
3. Soups. Ramen noodles and soup cups contain very high levels of trans fat.
Tip: Get out the crock-pot and recipe book. Or try the fat-free and reduced-fat canned soups.
4. Fast Food. Bad news here: Fries, chicken, and other foods are deep-fried in partially hydrogenated oil. Even if the chains use liquid oil, fries are sometimes partially fried in trans fat before they're shipped to the restaurant. Pancakes and grilled sandwiches also have some trans fat, from margarine slathered on the grill.
- Fries (a medium order) contain 14.5 grams.
- A KFC Original Recipe chicken dinner has 7 grams, mostly from the chicken and biscuit.
- Burger King Dutch Apple Pie has 2 grams.
Tip: Order your meat broiled or baked. Skip the pie. Forget the biscuit. Skip the fries -- or share them with many friends.
5. Frozen Food. Those yummy frozen pies, pot pies, waffles, pizzas, even breaded fish sticks contain trans fat. Even if the label says it's low-fat, it still has trans fat.
- Mrs. Smith's Apple Pie has 4 grams trans fat in every delicious slice.
- Swanson Potato Topped Chicken Pot Pie has 1 gram trans fat.
- Banquet Chicken Pot Pie has no trans fat.
Tip: In frozen foods, baked is always heart-healthier than breaded. Even vegetable pizzas aren't flawless; they likely have trans fat in the dough. Pot pies are often loaded with too much saturated fat, even if they have no trans fat, so forget about it.
6. Baked Goods. Even worse news -- more trans fats are used in commercially baked products than any other foods. Doughnuts contain shortening in the dough and are cooked in trans fat.
Cookies and cakes (with shortening-based frostings) from supermarket bakeries have plenty of trans fat. Some higher-quality baked goods use butter instead of margarine, so they contain less trans fat, but more saturated fat.
- Donuts have about 5 grams of trans fat apiece, and nearly 5 grams of saturated fat.
- Cream-filled cookies have 1.9 grams of trans fat, and 1.2 grams of saturated fat.
- Pound cake has 4.3 grams of trans fat per slice, and 3.4 grams of saturated fat.
Tip: Get back to old-fashioned home cooking again. If you bake, use fat-substitute baking products, or just cut back on the bad ingredients, says Moore. Don't use the two sticks of butter or margarine the recipe calls for two. Try using one stick and a fat-free baking product.
7. Chips and Crackers. Shortening provides crispy texture. Even "reduced fat" brands can still have trans fat. Anything fried (like potato chips and corn chips) or buttery crackers have trans fat.
- A small bag of potato chips has 3.2 grams of trans fat.
- Nabisco Original Wheat Thins Baked Crackers have 2 grams in a 16-cracker serving.
- Sunshine Cheez-It Baked Snack Crackers have 1.5 grams per 27 crackers.
Tip: Think pretzels, toast, pita bread. Actually, pita bread with a little tomato sauce and low-fat cheese tastes pretty good after a few minutes in the toaster oven.
8. Breakfast food. Breakfast cereal and energy bars are quick-fix, highly processed products that contain trans fats, even those that claim to be "healthy."
- Kellogg's Cracklin' Oat Bran Cereal has 1.5 grams per 3/4 cup serving.
- Post Selects Great Grains has 1 gram trans fat per 1/2 cup serving.
- General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal has 0.5 grams per 3/4 cup serving.
- Quaker Chewy Low Fat Granola Bars Chocolate Chunk has 0.5 grams trans fat.
Tip: Whole-wheat toast, bagels, and many cereals don't have much fat. Cereals with nuts do contain fat, but it's healthy fat.
9. Cookies and Candy. Look at the labels; some have higher fat content than others. A chocolate bar with nuts -- or a cookie -- is likely to have more trans fat than gummy bears.
- Nabisco Chips Ahoy! Real Chocolate Chip Cookies have 1.5 grams per 3 cookies. If you plow through a few handfuls of those, you've put away a good amount of trans fat.
Tip: Gummy bears or jelly beans win, hands down. If you must have chocolate, get dark chocolate -- since it's been shown to have redeeming heart-healthy virtues.
10. Toppings and Dips. Nondairy creamers and flavored coffees, whipped toppings, bean dips, gravy mixes, and salad dressings contain lots of trans fat.
Tip: Use skim milk or powdered nonfat dry milk in coffee. Keep an eye out for fat-free products of all types. As for salad dressings, choose fat-free there, too -- or opt for old-fashioned oil-and-vinegar dressing. Natural oils such as olive oil and canola oil don't contain trans fat.
Can you eliminate trans fats entirely your diet? Probably not. Even the esteemed National Academy of Sciences stated last year that such a laudable goal is not possible or realistic.
Instead, take this suggestion from Cindy Moore, MS, RD, director of nutrition therapy at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation: "The goal is to have as little trans fat in your diet as possible. "You're not eliminating trans fats entirely, but you're certainly cutting back."
SOURCES: Cindy Moore, MS, RD, director of nutrition therapy at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Consumer Reports: "Bad fats in common foods." FDA: "Questions and Answers about Trans Fat Nutrition Labeling."