• I often read and see people claiming that dietitians promote “low-fat” diets.

    We are accused of promoting an out-dated way of thinking. Low-fat diets went the way of big hair and the yellow “Baby on Board” signs. Yes, that long ago.

    For a LONG time now we have NOT promoted a low-fat way of eating to the general population except in very specific circumstances (if you ever had your gallbladder removed, you know why).

    When it was determined or discovered that there were several types of dietary fat, and they have very different roles in the body, recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for American to the American Heart Association changed. No longer was a “low-fat diet” recommended or promoted, but a diet low in saturated fat diet and no trans-fat diet recommended as it is today. (NOW, before you get all judgy and tell me that I am wrong, keep reading.)

    In conjunction with many other diet recommendations, exercise recommendations, and (quit) smoking recommendations, the low–saturated fat and no trans-fat diet is promoted to lower RISK of heart disease, stroke, and several cancers. Again, in CONJUNCTION with other things. But here I am only addressing one aspect.

    SATURATED FATS

    Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and found in both animal and plant foods. From the solid fat in meat and butter to the fat found in full-fat milk, cheese, and coconut oil – saturated fat is found in many parts of the typical American diet.

    The goal is not to eliminate saturated fat, but to limit it to less than 10% of your total calories. For someone who needs 2,000 calories per day, saturated fat should be less than 200 calories or just over 20 grams per day (fat has 9 calories/gram).

    Now, some people miss this part: reduce saturated fat intake and replace it with healthier unsaturated fats, NOT carbohydrates.

    In the late-80s to early-90’s, something happened that we now refer to as the “Snackwell Effect.” People saw low-fat or fat-free foods, like Snackwell cookies, and thought they could eat an unlimited amount when they contained the same amount of calories as regular cookies. Calories still count, and just because something is fat-free it is NOT automatically healthy. Hint: marshmallows contain no fat, but they are nearly all sugar. They aren’t “good” for you…

    TRANS-FATS

    While some trans-fats are found naturally in some animal foods, we are more concerned with the “created” trans-fats. Trans-fats are previously “healthy,” unsaturated fats that have added hydrogen to help them be more solid at room temperature shelf stable.

    We cannot create or accidentally make trans-fats in our home. It requires a chemical reaction in a specific setting.

    Typically trans-fats are found in processed foods and some fast food chains. Check the Ingredients list on a food label and look for “hydrogenated xxx oil” or “partially hydrogenated xxx oil”. If this is listed in the ingredients, you’ve got trans-fats in there. Any oil can be hydrogenated. Typically hydrogenated oils include vegetable oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil. But no matter which oil it is – if it is hydrogenated – it’s not good.

    Here is some good news for you: way back in June 2015 the US FDA determined that partially hydrogenated oils, which are the primary source of trans-fats, are not Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) and that food manufacturers had three years to get them out.

    By June 18, 2018, manufacturers must ensure that their products no longer contain partially hydrogenated oils for uses that have not been otherwise authorized by FDA.”

    If you look at the Nutrition Facts Panel and see that there are ZERO grams of trans-fat per serving even though there is partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil in the food then you are witnessing the rounding rule. If something has less than 0.5 grams per serving of trans fat (as with any type of fat), it is legally allowed to be called “trans-fat free” and lists ZERO grams per serving. That is how the labels were set up years ago. So, if something has 0.4 grams of trans-fat per serving, and we eat say three servings, we could be getting 1.2 grams of trans fat from that food. While there is no way to know how much is in the serving, if any, look to the ingredients list for “partially hydrogenated” oils, soybean oil, cottonseed oil and palm oil for example.

    So, check the label, both the Nutrition Facts and ingredients, as well as restaurant websites for nutrition information.

    This stuff is bad news, so get rid of it!

    The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 states: “Individuals should limit intake of trans fats to as low as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils in margarine, and by limiting other solid fats.” (Dietary Guidelnes 2015-2020, 2017)

    The American Heart Association recommends cutting back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet and preparing lean meats and poultry without added saturated and trans fat.” (Trans-fat, 2017)

    While the industry is making changes, don’t expect them to change everything for you. You decide what to put into your mouth, so be informed about what is in your food.

    Bottom line: know your sources of fat, especially saturated fat and trans-fat and replace saturated fats for polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in your diet.

    References

    Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020. (2017, November 28). Retrieved from Health.gov: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/a-closer-look-inside-healthy-eating-patterns/#other-components

    Final Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils (Removing Trans Fat). (2017, November 28). Retrieved from U.S. Food & Drug Administration: https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm449162.htm

    Trans-fat. (2017, November 28). Retrieved from healthyforgood.heart.org: https://healthyforgood.heart.org/Eat-smart/Articles/Trans-Fat