Health

Three ways to foil trans fat

Don't let this dangerous fat break your heart

You’ve probably heard that a high-fat diet can clog your arteries and pad your waistline. But what matters most is the type of fat in your diet. Trans fat is the worst offender – unhealthier than saturated fat, even – because it increases bad LDL cholesterol and lowers good HDL cholesterol, boosting your risk for heart disease.

Figuring out which foods contain trans fat can be tricky. Although it’s common in baked goods and fast food, it’s rarely listed on food labels. This will change by 2007, when Health Canada requires all food manufacturers to outline the amount of trans fat in their products. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know to make healthier choices:

Decode the label

“If the words ‘partially hydrogenated’, ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘modified’ vegetable oil, shortening or lard are listed as ingredients, the food likely contains trans fat,” says Bonnie Conrad, a registered dietitian in Halifax. The higher up these words appear in the ingredients list, the more likely it is that trans fat is present.

If the Nutrition Facts label on your packaging doesn’t state the amount of trans fat, you can estimate it with this simple calculation: add up the total grams of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat listed, and then subtract that amount from the total fat listed. Any leftover amount is probably trans fat.

Even if your favourite food claims to be trans-fat free, it may still contain up to 0.2g of trans fat per serving. (This is in accordance with Health Canada labelling regulations.) Eat these foods in moderation, because just one gram of trans fat a day is enough to increase your risk of heart disease by 20 per cent.

Choose healthy alternatives

Since trans fat is routinely found in foods that are fried, breaded or baked, such as cookies, muffins and French fries, try to swap these processed foods for fresh fruits and vegetables such as mango and red peppers. Eating a diet that’s rich in produce may provide some protection against heart disease. You may also opt to bake foods yourself so you know what’s in them, suggests Conrad.

While fast food may be an obvious source of trans fat, keep in mind that food in sit-down restaurants has the same unhealthy potential, Conrad says. Dodge poor menu choices by ordering broiled, baked or grilled meats and fish.

Get bad-cholesterol levels under control

You may not be able to eliminate trans fat from your diet completely, but you can take steps to lower your LDL cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. To decrease your cholesterol, cut back on your trans fat and saturated fat intake, exercise regularly, try to reduce stress, don’t smoke, drink in moderation and eat a healthy diet with more fruit, vegetables and fibre. Start with Chatelaine’s seven day, dietitian-designed Heart-healthy meal plan, complete with triple-tested recipes and printable grocery lists, or The feel-good diet, which will add zest to your days and years to your life!