Posted by Claudia Grazioso on August 15, 2011
I didn’t truly appreciate how nice grocery shopping was during the school year until I had to do it during the summer with the kids in tow. If there is a magical age at which they stop begging for junk food, we haven’t reached it yet. So I engage in what I call speed-shopping, and a little intelligent negotiation. Meaning I give in. Not entirely, but when they come over with a variety of brightly packaged food, I’ll agree to put one in the cart. Normally, I do a lot of a label-reading, but when I’m with the kids, my goal is to get out of there as fast as I can with minimal whining (theirs) exasperated half-yelling (mine) and a healthy junk compromise. By healthy junk, I mean something in a cartoon-colored box to satisfy them, but with no high fructose corn syrup or trans fats. To achieve this, I had come to rely on a quick glance at the front of the product. If it said “No Trans Fats!” I might consider adding it to my cart. Big mistake. But more on that later.
What are trans fats and why are they so bad for us? Trans fat is a fat that has been processed and hydrogenated so it is less greasy, keeps longer and spoils slower. And it is bad for us for a variety of reasons. First, it does a double whammy on cholesterol. It not only significantly raises the bad cholesterol (LDL), it simultaneously lowers the good cholesterol (HDL). It has also been linked to an increase in the risk of diabetes. (One study has shown that simply replacing trans fats in a diet with polyunsaturated fats can reduce the risk of diabetes by up to 40 percent). Additionally, some studies have linked it to cancer as well as depression.
These may all seem like health problems that affect adults, but they are long-term problems that start in childhood. And most kid favorites like cookies, chips, fries, doughnuts and cakes are stuffed with trans fats, so children who eat a traditional diet are consuming a lot of trans fats. It’s no wonder that childhood obesity and diabetes are becoming so common in America.
So you decide to avoid trans fats. And to do that you buy treats that trumpet “No Trans Fats!” Right? Nope. According to labeling laws, a food can have up to 2.2 grams of trans fat per serving and still claim 0 percent trans fats. Also, the food companies have a lot of leeway in determining the serving size. So if they decide that the average serving is four potato chips or half a cookie, the average consumer probably consumes even more trans fats when they think they are eating none at all. In other words, zero does not really mean zero.
Be vigilant about reading labels. If it says 0 percent trans fats per serving, read the fine print. If it has partially hydrogenated oils, choose something else.