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Trans Fat Begone!

Julie Lichty Balay, M.S., R.D.

Restaurant and fast-food chains have the nutrient values of their menus available in the restaurant or online, so if you frequent a particular restaurant chain, it would be advisable to research your favorite foods and find alternatives on the menu if you find they contain trans fat. It should be pointed out that all fried foods should be eaten sparingly because of their high fat content; steering away from them in general will limit both trans fat and total fat in the diet.

In cooking, oil almost always can be substituted for butter or margarine with similar results. In baking, consider using butter instead of margarine or shortening: The flavor is superior and because of this you may feel satisfied with less of the food. Because butter contains a lot of saturated fat (and trace amounts of naturally occurring trans fat), consider using less butter than the recipe calls for (most recipes come out just fine with 50% to 75% of the fat listed). If the amount of fat in the recipe is important to the quality, you may also use half oil and half butter, or substitute completely with oil. It is a good idea to test this method on a small recipe since using oil may change the result.

Keep in mind that all fats have the same amount of calories (9 calories per gram), and eating a lot of any fat can contribute to overweight. That means olive oil can make you gain as much weight as butter or as margarine made with hydrogenated oil.

Most major health organizations recommend keeping fat intake to about 30% of daily calories, which works out to about 65 grams of fat per day for a person who consumes 2,000 calories per day. Most also say that saturated and trans fat combined should account for no more than 10% of daily calories, or 20 grams of fat. However, the American Heart Association released new guidelines in June 2006 advising Americans to limit their trans fat intake to less than 1% of total calories, or about 2 grams.

Since it is really not yet known if any amount is safe, to be on the safe side, read the labels on packaged foods, and don’t buy any that contain either trans fat or that list partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list. Your arteries will thank you for your efforts.

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