Finally there is some good news when it comes to having fat in our food. Even though it was often feared, a new study found that most food manufacturers and restaurants did not just switch one bad ingredient for another when they cut down on artery-clogging trans fats from products and menus.
All the more, the french fry also go a healthier makeover. This said, there is still more to be improved, especially for some of the products sold in grocery stores that have taken the place of heart-damaging trans fat along with its harmful friend, saturated fat.
Eighty-three foods who had undergone a healthy makeover since 2006 were examined by a Harvard researcher and a consumer advocacy group. During this same year, the federal government started to demand that food labels list the amount of trans fat in packaged products. New York also became the first of various cities to phase them out in restaurants.
Trans fats are made when hydrogen is put in liquid oils to harden them for baking or to increase their shelf life. Once trans fats were undesirable and a major enemy, food makers and restaurants experimented with different cooking oil and fat substitutes, all the while trying to prevent the loss of taste and texture. The question is just how health are these imitations?
During the study, grocery products and restaurant food were checked for fat content by Harvard researcher Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian and the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Some of the items that were studied include margarine, baked goods and fast food from five different chains.
The researchers chose not to do their own chemical testing. Instead they used the Food and Drug Administration databases, industry brochures and nutrition labels to determine trans fat and saturated fat levels. The results were released in a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Almost all of the foods examined were free or mostly free of trans fats. One example came from a large order of McDonald’s french fries, in which the trans fats dropped from 7 1/4 grams to an absolute zero! Also, numerous companies and restaurants did not increase their saturated fat content when they slashed trans fat. Sixty-five percent of supermarket products and ninety percent of restaurant food contained saturated levels that were actually lower, unchanged or just a little higher.
But Dr. David Heber, who heads the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, warns that even though trans fat is taken away from gluttonous foods, it doesn’t make them healthy. Heber said, “Trans fat or not, a doughnut is still a doughnut. Even Homer Simpson will back me up on that.”