Food Tips

What You Need to Know About The New Oil That’s Replacing Trans Fat

new trans fat

CAROLINE PRADERIO

Back in June, the FDA announced a long-awaited ban on trans fats—those controversial lab-made fats that are shown to decrease “good” HDL cholesterol, increase “bad” LDL cholesterol, and up your risk for heart disease and diabetes. Now, food companies have until June 2018 to boot trans fats from their products.

But the ingredient they’re using to replace trans fats might be just as harmful.

Meet interesterified fat (IF), an industrially produced ingredient that will likely show up in more and more products now that the FDA’s trans-fat deadline is looming. It’s made by combining stearic acid (a naturally occurring saturated fat that’s found in chocolate, among other foods) with vegetable oils, like palm oil or soybean oil. This process rearranges the fat’s molecular structure, making it more shelf-stable (and thus perfect for processed foods).

The problem? There’s very little research on the heath effects of IF, and the research that is out there is not super encouraging. In one 2007 study that included 30 human volunteers, IF was shown to raise “bad” cholesterol, lower “good” cholesterol, and even raise fasting blood sugarby 20%. And a more recent trial in rodents found that when mothers eat a diet that replaces trans fat with IF, their male offspring are predisposed to obesity. (Check out these myths about fat.)

But wait, there’s more: Because manufacturers aren’t required to mention interesterification in the ingredients list (just like you won’t find the words “trans fat” in an ingredients list now; you have to know to look for “partially hydrogenated”), it’s hard to know whether or not a food even contains IF in the first place. Thanks a lot, food industry. Thanks. A. Lot.

Luckily, there are ways to avoid IF, says Alexandra Caspero, RD, a Missouri-based nutritionist and author of the blog Delish Knowledge. First, she says, it’s a good idea to cut back on processed foods. (Read more about their dangers here.) Then, keep an eye out for ingredients like palm oil, palm kernel oil, and fully hydrogenated oils: These usually (but not always) indicate that fats in the product have been interesterified.

“Definitive research is definitely needed, but my gut is to avoid or limit these fats until more is known,” Caspero says. And other nutrition authorities agree: We really don’t have enough data on these fats to make a ruling on them just yet.

For now, it’s probably better to stay on the safe side.

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