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The One to Avoid

October 8th, 2009 No Comments

— by Nutritionista

Recently, I got a question from reader Shayna. She asked, “If there was one thing that people should avoid in their diet, what would that be? (For instance, high cholesterol, high calories, certain sugars, etc.).”

It’s an interesting question. Before I give you my thoughts, let me just say that I don’t think there’s a magic bullet when it comes to diet. There’s no one food that’s going to completely destroy your health, and there’s no one food that’s going to completely restore it (or cause you to magically drop 10 pounds, get glowing skin, etc.). It’s important to remember that when we see claims for miracle foods or supplements.

But back to Shayna’s question. Is there one thing I always tell readers to avoid? Absolutely. It’s trans fat, and it’s found in many processed foods (for example, this Smart Choice product). Although trans fat is naturally found in some meat and dairy products, it’s the trans fat in processed foods that seem to be most harmful, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Why is trans fat so bad? Many reasons! Here are a few of them:

  • Unlike other fats, trans fat both raises “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and lowers “good” (HDL) cholesterol.
  • Trans fat increases triglycerides in the blood, which in turn can increase the risk of stroke, diabetes, heart attack, and heart disease.
  • Trans fat causes inflammation, which can contribute to the formation of fatty blockages in heart vessels.

So how can you avoid it?

  • Read ingredients on packaged food carefully. Food manufacturers are permitted to say that a serving of their product has zero grams of trans fat if the actual number is less than .5g per serving. But a few servings can add up, so you need to check the label. Look for “partially hydrogenated” oil of any kind in the ingredient list. “Hydrogenated oil” of any kind could or could not contain trans fat, so it’s best to avoid it when possible.
  • Stay far away from margarine. Olive oil is best in most cases when cooking at home, but in a pinch, use butter rather than any type of butter substitute (unless you’re sure it’s trans fat free).
  • Avoid fried foods when dining out. A serving of fries at a restaurant can contain around 5g of trans fat, depending on the type of oil they use.
  • Avoid processed/packaged foods. This is a no brainer, but guess what? It works!