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Trans Fats

Trans fats are partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils contained in thousands of processed foods. Any product that includes them among its ingredients should be off your shopping list forever.

The Food and Drug Administration has given food companies three years to begin disclosing how much artery-clogging trans fats their product contain. But the National Academy of Sciences last year concluded that the amount doesn't matter - there's no safe level because every "incremental increase" of trans fat increases the risk for heart disease. And unlike other fats; cis, omega, linoleic which the body needs to function, there's no known dietary need for trans fat.

But going trans-fat-free means getting rid of some of your family's favorite foods. Who would have thought Green Giant frozen broccoli with cheese sauce, Nutri-Grain whole-wheat waffles, Uncle Ben's rice bowls or even Wheaties would contain lurking trans fat? Most of the time, your able to find a good or better replacement for a favorite food, but giving up trans fats means giving up some convenience foods entirely like ready-made frostings.

The biggest casualties in your trans-fat cleaning spree will be your oatmeal-and-raisin Slim Fast bars, a daily staple in many diets that, sadly contain partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils.

The transition to trans-fat-free isn't impossible but can be enormously time consuming requiring lots of label-reading and shopping around.

Here's some advice on how to do it.

All varieties of the same brand aren't equal

I had always thought that when it comes to heart health, General Mills' Cheerios were a sure thing. After all, the box has a big red heart on it and a label that promises to reduce the risk of heart disease. But all Cheerios aren't created equal. While the regular variety is trans-fat-free, Apple-Cinnamon and Multi-Grain Cheerios contain hydrogenated oils. Regular Post Grape Nuts don't have trans fats, but Grape Nuts Flakes do. Even Newman's Own, one of my favorite sources of trans-fat-free products, uses hydrogenated oils in microwave popcorn.

Change the brand, not the food

While it's true that trans fats are found in thousands of popular foods, you often don't have to stop eating the food to get rid of the trans fats, you just have to look for another brand. For instance, I've used Bisquick baking mix to make pancakes since I was a child, but it contains hydrogenated oils. It was an easy switch to Aunt Jemima Original pancake mix. General Mills' Total Raisin Bran has trans fats, but raisin bran made by Post and Kellogg's don't.

Don't judge your food by its name

Some of the healthiest-sounding foods contain trans fat, such as Pepperidge Farm's Harvest 7-Grain bread. Many of the biggest offenders are in the cereal aisle. Post Select Blueberry Morning and Great Grains varieties and Kellogg's Mueslix all have trans fats. It's hard to find a kid's cereal that doesn't have trans fats, but I was surprised that Kellogg's Frosted Flakes and Quaker Cinnamon Life are both trans-fat-free.

Trans fats lurk in surprising places

The biggest surprise: Skittles and Twizzlers, both contain trans fats. And just when you thought your kitchen was free of trans fats, check the spice cabinet. Garlic powder and breadcrumbs, along with several varieties of spices and seasonins, all contain hydrogenated oils. Trans-fat-free seasonings were easy to find in a regular grocery store, but head to the health-food store to find trans-fat-free breadcrumbs.

If the label says zero trans fats, read the fine print

Doritos 3D Nacho Cheesier claims to have 0 grams of trans fat in a serving, but a closer look shows partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil are among the ingredients. How is that possible? If a "serving" contains less than 0.5 gram of fat, regulators say the food label can claim to be fat-free. So with the Doritos, the zero trans-fat claim really means there is less than 0.5 grams of trans fat in a serving of six chips.

You don't have to shop at a health food store, but it helps

Plenty of regular store brands don't contain trans fats-you just have to look for them. But the battle against trans fats is easier in the health food aisle, with brands like Amy's Kitchen and Annie's Homegrown. And many health food stores, such as Whole Foods, don't carry any foods with hydrogenated oils. The health food store is a great place to find kid cereal like Nature's Path Peanut Butter Panda Puffs. Newman's Own makes a variety of indulgences without trans fats-including a tasty alternative to Oreos. True, these products tend to be pricier than commercial brands, but many are at least close in price.

Don't forget about saturated fat

Not everyone agrees with the trans-fat-free approach. Some experts fear consumers trying to exclude trans fat will end up consuming too much saturated fat. For instance, one-half cup of Healthy Choice Rocky Road contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil, but has 130 calories and two grams of fat. Haagen-Dazs chocolate brownie with walnuts, while trans-fat-free, has 290 calories and 19 grams of fat.

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