Replacing Trans Fats for Better Health

The rush to remove trans fats from fried, baked, and processed goods has never been more frantic. Even Dunkin’ Donuts and the Indiana State Fair have promised to use healthier frying oils. But are the “heart-healthy” changes everything they seem?

Labeling loophole
A “Zero grams of trans fats!” sticker should give any consumer pause. Federal guidelines allow companies to label their foods as such if the product has fewer than 0.5 grams of trans fats a serving. Such a minimal amount may not hurt you (the American Heart Association recommends less than 2 grams a day), but eating three or four servings quickly pushes your trans fat consumption into the cholesterol-boosting range.

“Skip the label, and go straight to the ingredient list,” warns Ronni Julien, RD, LDN, author of The Trans-Fat Free Kitchen (HCI, 2006). “If it has partially hydrogenated oils, it has trans fats.”

Back to the tropics
Palm and coconut oil are becoming popular replacements for trans fats in baked goods (like Oreos) because they are solid at room temperature and more stable when exposed to high temperatures, both characteristics of partially hydrogenated oils.

Detractors, including the Heart Association, still cite the high levels of saturated fats in these oils as reason to steer clear. Ironically, many companies previously used palm oil but turned away from it once the dangers of saturated fat were touted in the 1980s.

Some nutritionists still don’t buy the negative hype over saturated fats. “Butter, coconut, and palm oils are whole foods and can be healthy when used in moderation,” says Cathy Crystal, instructor and nutrition consultant at Bauman College in Santa Cruz, Calif. “They’re absolutely healthier than trans fats.” Not that that’s an excuse to overindulge. The AHA still recommends limiting saturated fats to a mere 7 percent of your calorie intake.

More modification
Fearing the possible fallout of a high saturated fat content, many companies have also been investigating lab-created options, such as inter-esterification, a process that blends a fully hydrogenated oil with a liquid oil to create a stable, solid fat without trans fatty acids. One early study has already pointed to problems, however, showing that ingesting inter-esterified fat may elevate blood glucose levels by 20 percent while depressing HDL, the good cholesterol, just like trans fats.

Other manufacturers are genetically modifying plants to produce oils that don’t become rancid at high temperatures, a necessity for fried foods. Since the United States doesn’t have strict labeling standards regarding genetically modified organisms, buying organic is the only surefire way to avoid consuming oils that have been intentionally modified or hydrogenated.

“We don’t know if these modified foods are going to have negative or positive effects later on,” says Crystal. In place of trans fats or other modified oils, she suggests consumers simply rotate through natural fats like butter, coconut oil, or olive oil.

“Just use fats smartly,” she explains. “Rotating them will keep them from becoming allergenic and will deliver different nutrients.”

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By Lindsey Galloway, Natural Solutions magazine


W. C
W. C10 months ago


William C
William C10 months ago

Thank you.

Lucien B.
Lucien B6 years ago

Ever since food processing manufacturers realized they could extend the use of many vegetable oils by injecting hydrogen into them, the birth of hydrogenation was born.
Hydrogenated Oils: How Bad Are They for Us?

Lisa K.
Lisa K7 years ago

Seriously, day this planet's going to die out from sheer laziness. There's going to just be a massive human dieout sometime in the future because we will have all gotten so lazy and full of saturated fats that our rears will be permanently pasted to the sofa seats and when we go to move our massive size XXXXL fingers to change the channels, we'll sprain something and out of sheer stress on our fragile unfit systems and the fact one of our arteries alone contains more fat than a Hostess factory, we'll just die out...

And thus concludes the sad, unfit, and trans-fat-filled story of the human race...

Lisa K.
Lisa K7 years ago

That's scary about those fried food oils being genetically-engineered.

Really, it's truly sad that we've gotten to the point where people can't control themselves to such an extent that food producers have to suck all the bad stuff out of food just so that people can keep overindulging without suffering for it. What ever happened to self-control. I mean "self-control" as a word is almost Old English at this point with how archaic the concept seems to be. People need to LEARN moderation, period. Even healthy foods can't be overeaten because you can die of overdoses of anything. After a certain point, too much of anything is bad and hurts your health. We speak of these fats like they're bad but WE NEED THEM TO SURVIVE! They're not bad, they're just bad when we eat too much of them. There' s nothing wrong with saturated fat as long as it's in the pat of butter you put on a slice of bread as opposed to filling the 30 Twinkies you just ate in one sitting! Sheesh, it really says something horrible about us...but then again, look at the pollution issue with cars... We're too damn lazy to sacrifice our cars to something more labor-intensive like electric so we have to change the fuel itself rather than our habits...

Alison A.
Alison A7 years ago

Great info, thanks for posting.

Claudia McCall
Claudia McCall7 years ago

Thanks for all the info. Sometimes it's hard to know what's good for you, there's so much contradictory information. You just about get it straight, then some new study comes out and everything you thought you knew goes out the window. Frustrating!!

Kay O.
Kay O7 years ago

Thanks for the explanation.

dve d.
aa b7 years ago


Melinda M.
Past Member 7 years ago

I hate the labels that say ZERO TRANS FATS only to have the second ingredient be a partially hydrogenated oil.