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Check the labels and say bye-bye to trans fats!

Published June 09. 2010 05:00PM

One principal that I've tried to follow is the concept of frugal, healthy foods. I strive to feed my family the healthiest, yet least expensive, meals possible. I also want to prove to you, our readers, that it's possible to eat fairly healthy without spending a lot of money.

On my latest grocery trip, I went to pick up our usual 79-cent pack of stick margarine really "vegetable oil spread," because we don't like real margarine or butter.

I've gotten lazy, and after three years of cooking and shopping I've just bought the same things again and again. In an attempt to beat this laziness, I've started flipping products over to glance at the nutrition facts. Imagine my horror when I saw that our "favorite" cheap spread was filled with trans fat, saturated fat, and all of the things I try to keep out of our diet!

"Trans fat" has been around for more than 100 years. It's a liquid oil that has been turned into a solid fat, or hydrogenated. This process allows food products to have a longer shelf life, which revolutionized the sale of packaged food over a century ago.

Less food spoilage sounds like a winning product to me, right? Not so fast. Recent research has shown that trans fat can lead to higher cholesterol, blocked arteries, and heart disease. New York City has even banned the use of trans fat in its restaurants.

When I first reported on this ban in 2007 (I wrote about it in our college newspaper, The Crestiad), I interviewed dieticians and doctors who told me all about the dangers of trans-fatty acids. I vowed to remove these fats from my diet. But a few months later, I was happily married and cooking with trans fat vegetable spread again.

So what happened? I probably saw "vegetable oil spread" and thought it was better than real butter. It had a nice little picture on the back that showed it had less cholesterol and fat than regular butter, so that may have swayed me. Or maybe I just grabbed the least expensive stick "butter" that I could find. I don't really remember, to be honest. But once we had that product in our house, I started buying it again and again without stopping to look at the nutritional label.

No more. In the grocery store last week, I "splurged" for the $2 pack of margarine and walked out of that store a happy customer. We'll be using more butter as summer heats up and we use the grill (think corn on the cob and grilled vegetable packets), and it makes no sense to sacrifice our health to save a dollar. I've examined the rest of our frequent purchases, and haven't found any other trans fats but if I do, they'll be eliminated.

In my quest for a lower grocery bill, it's important to step back once in awhile to examine our motives and the impact that this quest has on our diet. If you're buying junk food in the name of saving money, there's something wrong.

Looking to reduce trans fats from your diet? Trans fat is now listed on the "nutrition facts" that are legally required to be on every packaged food product. If the product claims to have zero trans fats, it may still contain small amounts. Take a look at the ingredient list. You're looking for "partially hydrogenated fats," which is the chemical name for trans fats.

Remember, not all fats are bad for you. Small amounts of unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) can actually be good for you, and they taste great, too. Don't just grab the least expensive product you can find. Do your research and look for the affordable, healthier options. They're out there you just have to look for them!

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