Health and Fitness: How to dodge sneaky trans fats

There seem to be a lot of misconceptions about dietary fats.

It is common to hear someone claim he or she is avoiding fat in his or her diet in an attempt to be healthier, yet approximately 20 to 35 percent of ones diet should consist of fats according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

So how can these reasonable, yet seemingly contradictory statements be reconciled?

As some readers may already know, there is an important distinction to be made between different kinds of fats. To put it simply, there are bad fats and good fats.

The infamous bad fats include saturated and trans fats, while the often underappreciated good fats consist of unsaturated fats. A quick way to tell the difference is that saturated fat is solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fat is liquid at this temperature.

According to the American Heart Association, both saturated and trans fats increase total blood cholesterol, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. And, of course, bad fats can lead to weight gain.

On the other hand, unsaturated fat has been shown to decrease cardiovascular disease, essentially by reversing the effect of bad fats. It is also a major energy source and critical for various functions in the body such as the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K.

With this in mind, it is important to know which foods contain what types of fats.

Saturated fat is found in things like red meat and most baked goods, while unsaturated fat is present in foods such as fish, nuts and plant oils. Trans fat is commonly found in processed food, and much to the disappointment of many college students, it is present in many ready-made packaged foods like Ramen noodles.

Another thing to be aware of when shopping is that it is legal in the U.S. to claim that a product has 0 g of trans fat, so long as that product contains less than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving.

Thus, food companies could lower their serving sizes to the point where they just barely meet this cutoff. In other words, they could hypothetically claim a product contains 0 g of trans fat even if there is 0.49 g of trans fat per serving.

The way to ensure a product indeed has 0 g of trans fat is to read the list of ingredients. If the ingredients include shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, then the product must contain a certain amount of trans fat.

More information can be found at www.fda.gov.