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The Truth about Trans Fat and Saturated Fat

By Kathy Campbell, Bachelor of Science, Food and Nutrition, founder of the Personalized Eating Plan – PEP

How confusing is the information we hear about ‘trans fat’ and how it is harmful to us! We hear we should avoid it, okay that we get that message. But where is it found, this ‘trans fat’, and how do we avoid it? To make matters worse, what about butter? Is butter the healthy alternative? If so, why have we previously heard for years that butter is a saturated fat and is also to be avoided….WOW! Is any food safe, or are all foods bad? What should we do, quit eating altogether (no way!!)?

First of all, allow me to explain ‘trans fat’. Trans fat is man made. It is produced when our food production plants start with oil, then force hydrogen into the oil to make it more solid at room temperature. This is done for several reasons: it makes the fat have a longer shelf life, therefore acting as a preservative, to some degree. Also, the ‘hydrogenated’ oil is much less expensive for food companies to use, thereby saving them money (and perhaps keeping our costs down when we purchase the products it is made from). Another benefit to using trans (hydrogenated) fat in the cookies, cakes, crackers, etc. (and frying with it), is that the quality of the baked or fried product seems to be a crisper, or a chewier product, which we all like.

What are the downsides to using trans fats in baking, cooking and frying? Before hydrogenation, we started with an oil, which had a high percentage of unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fats are less likely to encourage the buildup of plaque in our arteries. But, when the hydrogenation is done, it transforms the oil into a completely different fat that actually does the opposite – it encourages plaque buildup in our arteries, instead of the opposite! {And another point to remember, don’t let the following words on a package fool you; if it reads ‘partially hydrogenated’, it is just as potentially harmful to us as ‘hydrogenated’! This is just a play on words to make us think it is not as bad, so beware!}.

What is the alternative, and what can we do? If you enjoy the convenience of buying your cookies, cakes, crackers (instead of making them yourself), then put the pressure on the food companies to use unsaturated fats in their products. In addition, if you buy a low or reduced fat product, it has to have less harmful fat…why? Because it has less fat overall!!

Now to the butter issue I mentioned earlier. Here’s a fact that is as true as it always has been: butter is a saturated fat. Saturated fats also encourage the buildup of plaque in our arteries. Saturated fats are found in milk (except skim or fat free), cheeses, butter, meat and meat fat, and also coconut and palm kernel oil.. We all need to limit our intake of saturated fat as much as possible. The recommendation is to limit saturated fat to no more than 1/3 of the total fat we consume (less is better), and our total fat should be 30 % or less of our caloric intake each day. Sound impossible to compute? Very difficult to figure on our own, but easy with the right help.

So back to butter; is it good or not so good? While butter is not man made (it comes from a natural source…cream), it is still made from an animal source which is a highly saturated source. It is best to limit our butter intake and replace it with a fat such as a monounsaturated oil, such as olive oil or canola oil. OR…less fat overall….OR a combination of doing BOTH of these things….is BEST OF ALL!!!!

But wait..., one more question, you say? How does margarine enter into all of this? Unless the margarine is one of the completely fat free margarines, it probably contains a certain percentage of trans fat because hydrogenation increases the shelf life of the product and makes it more solid at room temperature. Our best defense is to carefully read labels and stay educated to make wise choices.

Kathy Campbell earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Kathy loves to eat good food and had to find a way to improve health and control weight, while enjoying all her favorite foods. Since there was no program available, Kathy had to design it herself, and has since helped thousands of other people do the same thing for themselves! Kathy Campbell can be reached through the Personalized Eating Plan, , and phone number (352) 241-9427 or toll free; 800-999-4737 (4PEP). Email is

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