Partially hydrogenated oil, also known as trans fat, is one of the few ingredients that almost everyone can agree we should avoid.
A variety of processed foods and snacks previously contained artificial trans fats, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned these fats in the United States in 2018.
However, in 2022, some foods on the market may still contain a small amount of trans fat due to the processing methods used.
Moreover, trans fat may still be found in processed foods produced and purchased before the ban.
Here are 7 foods on hand that could contain artificial trans fats in 2022.
What is trans fat?
Trans fats are a form of unsaturated fat, which can be classified as either natural or artificial.
Bacteria form natural trans fats in the stomachs of cattle, sheep, and goats. Beef, lamb, and dairy products contain naturally occurring trans fats. Other types of meat, such as poultry, fish, and pork, also contain a small amount.
On the other hand, artificial trans fats are mainly formed during hydrogenation, a process in which hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to form a semisolid product known as partially hydrogenated oil.
Studies have linked the consumption of trans fats to heart disease, inflammation, higher LDL (bad) cholesterol, and lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
While the evidence is limited, natural trans fats appear less harmful than artificial trans fats.
Though the FDA’s ban on trans fats went into effect on June 18, 2018, products manufactured before this date could still be distributed until January 2020 or, in some cases, 2021.
Since the ban, many food manufacturers have reformulated their products to use other ingredients, including fully hydrogenated oil.
Unlike partially hydrogenated oil, fully hydrogenated oil does not contain trans fat. Instead, it contains a saturated fatty acid known as stearic acid, which may help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels compared with other types of saturated fat.
In some cases, fully hydrogenated oil may also be blended with polyunsaturated oil to improve the texture using interesterification.
Though interesterified fats do not contain trans fats, more research is needed to understand the long-term effects these fats may have on health.
Summary: Trans fat is a type of fat found naturally in some foods and added to others in partially hydrogenated oil. Though partially hydrogenated oil is no longer added to foods, trans fats may still be found in some fried or processed food products.
Foods that may contain trans fats
Some foods may still contain trans fats, either because they were produced before the FDA ban took effect or because their production methods leave small amounts of these compounds in the foods.
Here are 7 foods that may still contain trans fats in 2022.
1. Vegetable shortening
Shortening is a type of fat that is solid at room temperature. It’s often used in cooking and baking.
Vegetable shortening was invented in the early 1900s as a cheap alternative to butter and was typically made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.
It is popular for baking because of its high-fat content, which produces a softer and flakier pastry than other shortenings, such as lard and butter.
Since the FDA’s ban was enacted, food manufacturers have started using fully hydrogenated oil instead of partially hydrogenated oil in their shortening, making it free of trans fat.
However, if you have shortening in your kitchen cabinet produced before the ban went into effect, it may still contain trans fat.
Check the ingredients list to find out whether your shortening contains trans fat. If it includes partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, then trans fats are present.
Summary: Vegetable shortening made from partially hydrogenated oil was invented as a cheap substitute for butter. However, since the FDA ban on trans fats went into effect, commercial shortening is now made from fully hydrogenated oil and is trans-fat-free.
2. Some varieties of microwavable popcorn
Food manufacturers have historically used partially hydrogenated oil in their microwavable popcorn because of its high melting point, which keeps the oil solid until the popcorn bag is microwaved.
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As a result of the recent ban on trans fats, manufacturers have switched to trans fat-free oil.
Still, if you have some microwave popcorn in your pantry that you purchased before the ban, it may contain trans fat.
Be sure to choose varieties of microwave popcorn that are low in sodium and free of partially hydrogenated oils, additives, and preservatives for your next movie night if you’re looking for the most health-promoting type of this product.
Alternatively, you can make your own popcorn on the stovetop or in an air popper — it’s simple, cheap, and delicious.
Summary: Some varieties of microwavable popcorn purchased before the FDA ban went into effect may contain trans fats. If you want to avoid trans fats, steer clear of store-bought popcorn made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or make your own at home.
3. Certain vegetable oils
Some vegetable oils may contain trans fats, especially if the oils are hydrogenated.
Because hydrogenation solidifies oil, these partially hydrogenated oils were long used to make margarine. Therefore, many types of margarine on the market in past years were high in trans fats.
Trans fat-free margarine has become widely available now that these oils have been phased out.
However, some non-hydrogenated vegetable oils may also contain small amounts of trans fat due to the high heat in some processing methods.
To reduce trans fat consumption from margarine and vegetable oils, avoid products that contain partially hydrogenated oils or choose healthier oils such as extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil.
Summary: Although margarine used to be made from partially hydrogenated oils, trans-fat-free margarine is now widely available. However, some vegetable oils may contain a small amount of trans fat due to the high heat used in certain processing methods.
4. Fried fast foods
When eating on the go, remember that certain takeout food options may contain trans fat.
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Fried fast foods, such as fried chicken, battered fish, doughnuts, french fries, and mozzarella sticks, can all contain high levels of trans fat.
That’s because the high cooking temperatures used during frying can cause the trans fat content of the oil to increase slightly.
The trans fat content also increases each time the same oil is reused for frying.
Because it can be hard to avoid trans fats from fried food, it may be best to limit your intake of fried foods and choose foods that are grilled, roasted, steamed, or sauteed.
Summary: During frying foods such as french fries or fried chicken, the heat applied to the vegetable oils can create trans fats. Furthermore, the trans fat content of the oil increases each time the oil is reused.
5. Bakery products
Bakery goods such as muffins, cakes, pastries, and pies are often made with vegetable shortening or margarine.
Vegetable shortening helps produce a flakier, softer pastry. It’s also cheaper and has a longer shelf life than butter or lard.
Until recently, vegetable shortening and margarine were made from partially hydrogenated oils. For this reason, baked goods have traditionally been a common source of trans fat.
As manufacturers have begun to eliminate trans fat from shortening and margarine, the total amount of trans fats in baked goods has similarly declined.
However, it’s still a good idea to limit your consumption of baked goods that have been fried, such as doughnuts, because they may contain trans fats formed during frying.
Making your own baked foods at home is a simple and effective way to take control of what you’re putting on your plate while still enjoying your favorite sweets.
Summary: Bakery products are often made with vegetable shortening and margarine, which were previously high in trans fats. However, trans fats have been mostly eliminated from these ingredients, resulting in less trans fat in baked goods.
6. Non-dairy coffee creamers
Non-dairy coffee creamers are a substitute for milk or cream in coffee, tea, and other hot beverages.
The main ingredients in most nondairy coffee creamers are sugar and oil.
Most non-dairy creamers were traditionally made from partially hydrogenated oil to increase shelf life and provide a creamy consistency. However, most brands have switched to fully hydrogenated oil since the FDA ban went into effect.
Still, because powdered non-dairy coffee creamers typically have a long shelf life, there’s a chance you may have some sitting in your kitchen cabinet that could contain partially hydrogenated oil.
Be sure to check the ingredients list carefully and look for brands containing less sugar, fewer additives, and artificial ingredients.
If you’re not limiting dairy in your diet, you can also opt for other alternatives to sweeten your drinks, such as whole milk, cream, or half-and-half.
Summary: Non-dairy coffee creamers can replace milk or cream in hot beverages. Until recently, most were made from partially hydrogenated oil, but they are now made with healthier oils.
7. Other sources
Trans fats can also be found in smaller amounts in various other foods manufactured before the FDA ban went into full effect.
Here are a few foods to keep an eye out for:
- Potato and corn chips. Though most corn and potato chips are now free of trans fats, it’s essential to read the ingredient lists and avoid any that contain partially hydrogenated oil.
- Canned frosting. Canned frosting is mainly made up of sugar, water, and oil. Since some products manufactured before the FDA ban may contain partially hydrogenated oil, it’s important to read ingredient lists carefully if you have any canned frosting in your fridge.
- Crackers. Though partially hydrogenated oils are no longer added to crackers, certain varieties produced before the trans fat ban went into effect may contain small amounts.
- Pizza. In the past, trans fats were frequently found in some brands of pizza dough. Look out for this ingredient, especially in frozen pizzas that you may have stashed in your freezer.
Summary: It’s a good idea to check labels carefully for trans fats in foods manufactured before the FDA ban, including potato chips, frozen pizza, canned frosting, and crackers.
Trans fats are a form of unsaturated fat associated with several negative health effects.
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Artificial trans fat is created during hydrogenation, which converts liquid vegetable oils into semisolid partially hydrogenated oil. Trans fat can also occur naturally in meat and dairy.
Though the amount of trans fats in food has significantly declined since the FDA’s ban on trans fats went into effect, trans fat can still be found in some products, such as fried foods.
To reduce your intake, read labels and check ingredient lists for partially hydrogenated oil, especially if you have any foods in your pantry that you purchased before the ban took effect.
The best way to avoid trans fats is to limit your consumption of processed and fried fast foods and to try to eat a balanced diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein.
Expert tip: Reducing your intake of processed foods is one of the easiest ways to reduce your consumption of trans fat and improve the overall quality of your diet.