When it comes to foods that cause high cholesterol, saturated fats used to be seen as public enemy number one. We now know that trans fats — fats formed by adding hydrogen to liquid unsaturated fatty acids and resulting in a particular chemical arrangement of hydrogen which makes the fats solid and prevents spoiling — can be just as dangerous, if not more so.
Trans fats raise bad, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL), cholesterol levels and lower beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, increasing heart disease risk. These dangers have led to trans-fat legislation, first at restaurants in New York City, where they are limited to less than 0.5 grams per serving, and then in the entire state of California. “Both coasts have joined the movement, including cities in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington, and Connecticut,” says Maria Haisley, RD, a clinical dietitian at Elkhart General Hospital in Indiana.
To make it easier to maintain a heart-healthy diet at home, in 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required all foods and beverages to list trans fats on the Nutrition Facts label, says Haisley. However, a food with less than 0.5 grams per serving can still be labeled as trans-fat free. “It’s important to not only read the Nutrition Facts panel on a package of food, but also the ingredient list,” says Lisa Sheehan-Smith, EdD, RD, associate professor of nutrition and food science at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. “If partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are in the food and, in particular, near the beginning of the list, then that food contains trans fat — and more than you may realize. Those 0.3 and 0.4 grams do add up when you consume a processed food diet.” Here are 10 red-flag foods to avoid.
LOOK: 9 trans fat foods to avoid:
Fried Foods Aren't Friendly:
French fries, fried chicken, and other traditional fried dishes can be notorious trans-fat and high-cholesterol foods. “Instead of deep frying, try pan frying or sautéing," says Kim Kircherr, RD, a dietitian for Jewel-Osco supermarkets in Illinois. "This is a nice step in the right direction and eases the transition for people who are used to eating fried foods.” For a heart-healthy diet, be sure to use liquid oils like olive or canola as a heart-smarter fat and in a measured amount to keep total fat and calories in check.
Avoid Fast Food:
Fast food gets a lot of blame these days for problems with a high-cholesterol diet, but the reality is that many restaurant chains now offer heart-healthy diet options that you can order instead of those laden with trans fats. “On a menu, scan for foods that are fresh and steer clear of the fried foods and things loaded with cheese sauce and condiments,” Haisley suggests. “Look for salads, grilled fish or chicken, baked chips, baked potato, fruit, and ask for condiments to be on the side, so you are in control. Also, skip the fried desserts, cookies, and pies, and look for a fresh fruit or yogurt treat.”
Nix The Non-Dairy Creamer:
Many people choose non-dairy creamer as a simple, inexpensive way to add flavor to their morning coffee; what they don't realize is that it contains trans fats that can contribute to high cholesterol. “Try one per cent milk instead,” says Kircherr. “It’s a richer-tasting choice than fat-free milk, but still acceptable on a heart-healthy diet. Want something thicker? Try evaporated skim milk.
Ditch Dessert Mixes:
Store-bought cake mixes and frostings may be convenient, but many have high amounts of trans fats, which makes their empty calories even less desirable for a heart-healthy diet. “Try baking a cake from scratch the good old-fashioned way,” suggests Haisley. “Incorporate healthy fats from oil, and sprinkle powdered sugar on top instead of frosting.” That’s a great alternative to high-cholesterol butter cream, too.
Choose Frozen Dinners Carefully:
You don’t have to skip the frozen food aisle when you’re shopping for a heart-healthy diet. You just need to discern between the nutritious choices and those trans-fat and high-cholesterol containing foods by reading labels and choosing foods nearest to their natural form. “Stock up on frozen veggies and fruits without sauces to add to casseroles, soups, stews, and smoothies, and look for lean or extra-lean protein sources,” says Kircherr. “Choose fish that’s not breaded, and remember that how you cook and serve it at home matters, too.”
Dump The Doughnut:
When it comes to doughy treats, the best way to avoid trans fats is to avoid these high-cholesterol foods entirely. “Doughnuts usually only come one way, and that way is fried,” says Haisley. “If you want to maintain your heart-healthy diet, choose something else. Good options are whole-grain toast, English muffins, a bran muffin, or a fruit and yogurt treat.”
Stick It To Stick Margarine:
For years, people believed that stick margarine was a better choice than butter as far as high-cholesterol foods go. Then we learned that it’s absolutely loaded with trans fats. For your heart-healthy diet, “choose a soft, tub margarine with the least amount of trans/saturated fat, or try one of the sprays for flavor without all that fat or calories,” suggests Kircherr.
Don't Rely On Refrigerated Dough:
They seem so easy and convenient, but many of those tubes of refrigerator-case dough — the kind pre-cut for biscuits, cinnamon rolls, cookies, and the like — are loaded with trans fats. For a heart-healthy diet, “go for whole-grain rolls or bread instead, as an addition to your meal,” says Haisley. Or, as with cakes, make your own with wholesome ingredients and unsaturated, omega-3-rich oil.
Part Ways With Microwave Popcorn:
Popcorn can be part of a heart-healthy diet, but not when it’s loaded with salt, high-cholesterol butter, and other unhealthy ingredients. And with many brands of microwave popcorn, you’ll often find unwanted trans fats as well. “Air-pop your own kernels and add your own flavors and spices,” says Haisley. “Try it sweet, too, with a small amount of honey and cinnamon.”