The Dish: "Trans Fat-Free" Doesn't Mean Healthy

Updated:Jan 11,2014
Fats - The Dish with Dr. Eckel Column (640 px)An American Heart Association volunteer recently heard a story on the radio about a state fair requiring its vendors to use trans fat-free cooking oils to make their deep-fried treats.  Many others had heard this and mistakenly believed that because the funnel cakes and corn dogs contained zero grams of trans fat, they could now be enjoyed without guilt.  Some even called them “healthy” and looked forward to placing an extra order.   This concerned the volunteer, and it concerns me too.

Many of us look forward to splurging on treats at the state fair. But let’s set the record straight: Foods described as “trans fat-free” or “zero grams trans fat” are not necessarily good for you.  In many foods labeled “trans fat-free” or cooked with “trans fat-free” oils, the trans fat may have been simply replaced with oils high in saturated fats, which raise your bad cholesterol levels and can raise your risk of heart disease.   As an example, chicken fried in lard or palm oil may be "trans fat-free" but can still increase your risk of heart disease.   Fried foods are never really good for you regardless of the oil used. Fats - State Fair (spot)

Foods labeled or advertised “trans fat-free” may also lack essential vitamins and nutrients.   For example, French fries, cookies and doughnuts prepared with “healthier oils” are still not nutritious.   These foods are high in empty calories, plus they’re generally low in nutrients and contain a lot of saturated fat and/or added sugars.

Another point: Foods made with zero grams of trans fats can contain the same number of calories as foods made with trans fats.   It’s unrealistic to think that “healthier oils” are the green light to overindulge in high-calorie foods.   Wondering how many calories and how much fat you should be consuming a day?   Check out the My Fats Translator tool.

Let’s exercise some good old-fashioned common sense: Enjoy all foods in moderation and consider foods high in the “bad” saturated or trans fats occasional treats.   After all, doughnuts have never been touted as the “breakfast of champions.”


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