April 2002

Back in the mid-1990’s, most Americans became aware of trans fats. Reports began to surface that margarine, often touted as healthy, contains these sinister fats and might not be preferable to butter after all.

Manufacturers partially hydrogenate-that is, add hydrogen to-corn, soybean, and other highly unsaturated oils to make them more solid and stable. The result: some of the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids in the oils become more saturated. Hydrogenation gives margarines, shortening, and puddings a creamy consistency, and prolongs the shelf life of crackers, cakes, cookies, chips, popcorn, chocolate candy, and other foods that contain the semi-solid oils. Because they are less likely to turn rancid, hydrogenated oils are also greatly used in restaurants.

As First Place members, we have protected ourselves to a point, by eliminating many of these food choices listed above from our daily consumption. Understanding trans fats can help us make better choices when we choose the fats we do consume, such as the margarine we buy.

Let’s review the facts about the different types of fats and how they affect, not only our weight, but also our health. We have learned that saturated fat is the type that we find in meat and dairy products. The First Place “Live-It” recommends choosing a polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat rather than saturated fat as our additional fat choices. While regular unsaturated fats lower blood cholesterol, trans fats act more like saturated fats-raising total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. In addition, in a sort of double whammy, trans fats lower protective (“good”) cholesterol, which makes them, overall, even worse than saturated fats. They may also increase the risk of heart disease in other ways: for instance, they boost blood triglyceride levels and seem to impair the ability of blood vessels to dilate. They have also been linked to an increase risk of diabetes.

Sadly, what many Americans concluded about trans fats back in the mid 1990’s were that butter was considered a better choice than margarine. That may be a true statement, but butter is still not the best choice! We can choose a margarine that is low in trans fat. The more solid the product (oil, or margarine) the more hydrogenated it is; therefore, it has more artery-damaging trans fats. Tub margarines are soft and contain a large amount of unaltered polyunsaturated fats. “Diet” margarines are softer and have more water-and less than half the fat of other margarines. Liquid “squeeze” margarines are also good alternatives.

At the present time we do not know how much trans fat is in a product. If you see hydrogenated oil on the ingredients list, you know the food contains some trans fats. The nutrion labels are not required to specify how much. This may actually encourage manufacturers to use hydrogenated oils, since unlike the saturated fats they often replace, the trans fats remain invisible on the nutrition labels. Currently, the trans fats are not counted as saturated fat on the labels.

Three years ago, the FDA proposed adding the trans fat content to nutrition labels, but the process has been put on a back burner. As things stand, foods that contain trans fats are even allowed to make heart-healthy claims. For instance, Triscuit crackers are high in trans fats, yet the box boasts “no cholesterol” and “low saturated fat.” Labeling of trans fats is long overdue.

Some good news on this subject: the USDA has developed a new process called low-trans hydrogenation, which produces fewer trans fats and may soon be used for margarines and other spreads.

May God Bless Each of You!

Kay Smith
First Place Associate Director

Kay is the associate national director of First Place and has been on the First Place staff since 1987.

Kay is a popular speaker at retreats, seminars, Conferences, FOCUS Weeks and Workshops across the country. Kay is the First Place food exchange expert and writes a monthly article in the First Place E-Newsletter on nutrition. She also was a contributing writer to the Today Is the First Day devotional book. Her delightful personality and love for people endears her to everyone she meets, and they quickly become her new best friend.

Kay and her husband, Joe, live in Roscoe, TX. They have two children and five grandchildren. Two of the young grandchildren are making a name for themselves on the golf circuit. Two of the young grandchildren are making a name for themselves on the golf circuit, and the three oldest grandsons are all involved in numerous sporting events, which Kay and Joe attend as often as possible.

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