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Baylor College of Medicine News

Product labels help consumers kick trans fats to the curb

Checking the labels of food products is the easiest way to cut down on the amount of trans fat, which increases the risk of developing heart disease, in your diet.

Trans fat is made by a process called hydrogenation, where hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, and is used to increase the shelf life and flavor stability of various foods, said Molly Gee, a registered dietitian with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Although small amounts of trans fat occur naturally in some dairy foods and meat, it is present more often in foods such as cookies, cakes and crackers.

By law, all packaging of food products must now include the amount of trans fat per serving on the nutrition facts panel.

Trans fat raises bad cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoproteins), and lowers good cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein).

"You want to consume as little trans fat as possible," said Gee. "Avoid processed foods and eat more whole grains such as oats and brown rice."

She recommends eventually moving towards foods with no trans fat at all.

Gee advises avoiding regular margarine because it contains trans fat. She said products that contain sterols and stanols, substances that occur naturally and have powerful cholesterol-lowering properties, are a better choice that has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.

When reading the product labels, Gee said it is important to understand that a product that advertises "Zero Trans Fat" could still contain some -- less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. Checking the nutrition facts panel is important.

Also, she said, remember that even though a product may have little trans fat, it could still be high calorie. She recommends checking the levels of saturated fat and cholesterol per serving when choosing foods.