Trans fats are ridiculously unhealthy, and even fast food restaurants are beginning to realize it! Like saturated fats, trans fats raise your bad cholesterol (LDL). But trans fats also lower good cholesterol (HDL), worsen inflammation and can cause grumpy or aggressive behavior. Avoid these 10 processed and fast food temptations to protect your heart and your overall health.
1. Fried, well...anything: Fried Coke is a real thing. So is fried Twinkies, butter, and macaroni and cheese. But even healthy foods like carrots, broccoli and the like become unhealthy when fried. Once they're dipped in trans fat-laden hydrogenated vegetable oils, healthy foods transform into unhealthy gut bombs.
While many fast food restaurants have reduced their trans fats—including McDonald's, Jack in the Box, Wendy's and Burger King—others like Church's and Popeye's chicken still use them to fry food. You can ask which oil a restaurant fries in, but some fast food companies (like McDonald's) forbid their employees from revealing whether trans fats are used. And, the answer “vegetable oil” can be vague since it could be hydrogenated or not. So, if you're not sure, skip the battered and fried foods altogether. Yes, even french fries.
2. Pie: One of the great injustices of life is that pie, even in moderation, is sometimes really unhealthy. If you partake of a slice made outside your home, be wary of trans fats. Fast food restaurants McDonald's and Burger King did recently remove trans fats from their “apple pie” recipes. Note: That's not to say these “pies” are suddenly healthy. McDonald's apple "pie" has 13 grams of fat (7 grams saturated) and 13 grams of sugar.
Store-bought bakery and frozen section pies are also chock full of trans fats. Marie Callender's pies have 2-4.5 grams of trans fats per serving. The same goes for store-bought pie crust. Sure, it's easier than homemade, but homemade doesn't have 1.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
If you must use store-bought (after all, some of us are challenged when it comes to making homemade pie crust), look for a variety without hydrogenated oils. I either opt for crustless fruit crisps or use Trader Joe's pie crusts when I'm desperate for a delicious pie. Be wary though, even Trader Joe's Gourmet Pie Crusts have 7 grams of saturated fat per serving, so use sparingly!
3. Butter substitutes: Margarine and other faux butters are high in trans fat and saturated fat. The hydrogenation of the vegetable oil is what allows margarine to maintain it's solid stick shape rather than being an oily puddle. The tub variety of margarine isn't any better. Stick to real butter or, if you're vegan or have cholesterol issues, go with coconut oil or coconut butter instead of margarine.
And then there's shortening. Some brands of shortening are ridiculously high in trans fat. Crisco is getting better; it now has less than 1 gram of trans fat per serving. In fact, due to labeling regulations that allow companies to round down, the label says 0 grams even though hydrogenated oils are still present. Whenever possible, avoid shortening and use coconut oil or real butter instead.
4. Baking mixes: You probably know better than to buy prepackaged mixes, but in case you have a moment of weakness, remember this: regular Bisquick has 1.5 grams of trans fat per serving. Try our DIY baking mixes instead!
5. Creamer substitutes: Non-dairy creamers are everywhere, from fast food restaurants to the office refrigerator. Sure, they're dairy-free, but they're trans fat-full. Again, these labels get by with a 0 trans fat label by rounding down. Hydrogenated oils are usually second or third on the list of ingredients. If you drink just a few cups of coffee with these creamers each day, the amount of trans fat can really add up. Opt for real dairy half-and-half or cream (without additives) or coconut cream instead.
6. Beef: Beef contains naturally-occurring trans fat. It's not yet clear whether the naturally-occurring varieties affect our bodies in the same way as manufactured trans fat. However, since there are other reasons to reduce meat intake, it may be wise to reduce your beef consumption until more is known about naturally-occurring trans fat.
7. Frozen drinks: I think we're all guilty of slurping the occasional fast food beverage. And I'd say most of us know they're not the healthiest choice. But, in addition to the empty calories and refined sugars, be wary of trans fat, especially in the creamy varieties. Krispy Kreme's 20-ounce Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Arctic Avalanche, for instance, holds an astounding 9 grams of trans fat. That's as much trans fat as 18 Krispy Kreme's doughnuts!
8. Crackers: Little squares of wheat, that sounds like a healthy snack, right? Sadly, wrong. Many cracker varieties contain partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil high on the ingredients lists. The trans fats give crackers their crispy finish. Somewhat obviously, the same goes for most chips, too. If you're buying crackers, check the ingredients list carefully. Annie's Bunnies and Stacy's Pita Chips are trans fat-free store-bought crunchy snack options.
9. Chow mein or crunchy rice noodles: This is a heartbreaker, though I suppose I should've known better since it's processed. Luckily, I only have them when I order those Asian-style salads out at restaurants and not at home. But those crispy Asian noodles that you can add for some extra crunchiness to salads and stir fries have (gasp) 1.5 grams of fat in each 1/2 cup serving. Try walnuts or slivered almonds instead.
10. Quick breakfast foods: American breakfast tables, whether home or at a fast food restaurant, are often topped with quick cereals and breakfast bars. Here are a few surprisingly not-so-healthy trans fatty breakfast options:
- Kellogg's Cracklin' Oat Bran Cereal, 1.5 grams per 3/4 cup serving;
- Post Selects Great Grains, 1 gram trans fat per 1/2 cup serving;
- General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal, 0.5 grams per 3/4 cup serving; and
- Quaker Chewy Low Fat Granola Bars Chocolate Chunk, 0.5 grams trans fat per bar.
Related on Organic Authority: