Food & TravelHealth & Wellness

The Dangers of Trans Fat in a Diet

In an earlier column, I gave you some ideas and suggestions for switching to healthier oils. This month, I want to warn you of what could be the worst monster on the food shelf, trans fat. Federal health officials estimate that eliminating trans fats would prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease a year. It is so bad that the FDA is rapidly moving toward banning it from our food supply. New York City banned trans fats in 2006.

The negative health effects do not stop at heart disease. Trans fats will:

  • Slow your metabolism
  • Cause weight gain
  • Increase inflammation
  • Lower your good cholesterol
  • Raise your bad cholesterol
  • Cause diabetes, obesity, heart attacks, strokes, dementia, cancer and inflammation

Trans fat was invented for use in margarine and shortening. It was supposed to be a better butter, but in fact, it’s worse. It was the first man-made fat to join our food supply. Many American kitchens were first introduced to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in 1911 with the product Crisco. Trans fat gained widespread popularity during World War II, when many people began using margarine and shortening as alternatives to rationed butter. Did you know that if you put butter and margarine side by side, flies will land on the butter, but they won’t land on the margarine? It’s just too toxic for them.

Trans fats are used both in processed food and in restaurants, often to improve the texture, shelf life or flavor of foods. They are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid, which is why they are often called partially hydrogenated oils. It never goes rancid. You can make pie crust out of shortening even if it has been sitting in the cupboard for 30 years…very scary!

It is hidden in almost all convenience food and fried food such as; microwave popcorn, cupcakes, cookies, donuts, many fried foods, frozen pizza, baked foods, frozen foods, ready to use frosting and frozen pie dough, to name a few.

The first step in getting trans fats out of our food supply was the change in food labeling laws. Many companies have already phased out trans fats, prompted by new nutrition labels introduced by the FDA in 2006 that list trans fats and an increasing number of local laws that have banned them. Food manufacturers actually had to put the amount of trans fat in their junk food on the label. But there was a loophole created by food industry lobbyists that allowed them to hide the trans fats. They ONLY had to notify consumers that their product contained trans fat if it was greater than half a gram per serving. If something says zero trans fat, it can still have lots of trans fats.

Take, for example, whipped topping like Cool Whip. The label says zero trans fat, but if you look more closely, you’ll see the ingredient list on the label says partially hydrogenated fat. Well, partially hydrogenated fat is trans fat. But because the law states that you can say zero trans fat on the label if there is less than half a gram per serving, they can put zero trans fats.

Since most people don’t know that hydrogenated fat and trans fat are the same thing, food makers have been able to hide the trans fat content in plain sight using this little trick. People who ate multiple portions of such foods could quickly take in a dangerously high level while assuming they were taking in none. The good news is the FDA’s new proposal would eliminate this loophole.

I have included a versatile and flavorful recipe (see previous page) that can be used as a sauce, marinade or salad dressing. This will turn anything from steak to broccoli from ordinary to extraordinary. I saw this tacky phrase on a TV commercial, however in this case it really is true!

Argentinian Chimichurri Sauce

Note: there are many variations of this recipe, make it your own and enjoy.


2 cups fresh parsley, firmly packed
1 cup fresh cilantro, firmly packed
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves firmly packed (or 1 to 1.5 tablespoons dried)
3-6 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons chopped shallots (or green onions)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tsp ground cumin
Kosher salt and red pepper flakes to taste


Pulse the garlic and shallots in the food processor until finely chopped. Then add the parsley, cilantro and oregano and pulse briefly, until finely chopped.

Transfer the mixture to a separate bowl. Add the olive oil, lime juice and vinegar, and stir. (Adding the liquids outside of the blender gives the Chimichurri the correct texture. You don’t want the herbs to be completely puréed, just finely chopped).

Season with salt and red pepper flakes to taste and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

This article was contributed by Dr. Stuart Offer.

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