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What Are Trans-Fatty Acids Anyway?

Written for The River Current Publication

While spending some time with my niece last Saturday, I excitedly blurted out…”Hey, how cool is it that the FDA is proposing a ban on trans-fatty acids?”  To which she returned a blank stare and said, “Um, sure Aunt Con….whatever that means.”  Lol…isn’t it funny that when we have our attention focused on something, that we assume everyone else does as well?

Some may ask, what in the heck is a trans-fatty acid anyway?    Trans-fats are vegetable oils that have been mixed with hydrogen to increase shelf life and mimic the flavor and feel of butter or lard.  Trans-fats can be found in many processed foods, including crackers, cookies, frozen pies, baked goods, microwave popcorn and other snacks, frozen pizza, coffee creamers, refrigerated dough products (like biscuits and cinnamon rolls), ready-to-use frostings, vegetable shortenings and stick margarine.  Trans-fats are often used to improve the texture, shelf life or flavor of foods.

Research shows this trans-fat ingredient to be harmful to human health by raising levels of LDL cholesterol…the bad kind. Trans-fat consumption also depresses levels of HDL cholesterol, which is considered protective against heart disease.  Last Thursday’s announcement marks the first time since 1969 that the FDA has declared a food additive unsafe for consumption.

“While consumption of potentially harmful artificial trans-fats have declined over the last two decades in the United States, current intake remains a significant public health concern,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg. “Further reduction in the amount of trans fat in the American diet could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year—a critical step in the protection of Americans’ health.”  Trans-fat content has been labeled on foods since 2006, and since then, consumption rates have dropped from about 4.6 grams of trans-fat per day in 2003, to about 1 gram per day in 2012.

Contrary to popular belief, a fairly high percentage of good fats are required for optimum health.  Animal and vegetable sources of fat provide a concentrated source of energy in the diet.    Find recipes that replace unhealthy fats with good ones, such as vegetable oils, fish, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocados.

The good fats -- butter, chocolate, coconut, olive oil, avocado, fish, and shellfish, among many other favorites -- are not only delicious; they are good for hormones and skin, protect against stroke and cancer, slow the effects of aging, improve mood and memory and boost the immune system.  The most surprising news might be that the right fats can be great tools for weight loss, by making you feel fuller longer and jump-starting your metabolism. It's a fact: Not all fats are bad!

Cranberry, Cherry & Walnut Marmalade
Fresh cranberries get extra crunch from walnuts (a rich source of health benefiting omega-3 fatty acids) and an infusion of sweetness from dried cherries in this take on a classic marmalade. Leftovers are delish on a turkey sandwich!  Makes: 4 cups

3/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sweet red wine (or cranberry juice)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
1 12-ounce package fresh or frozen cranberries
2/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest


 1. Combine sugar, water, wine (or cranberry juice), cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium nonreactive saucepan (see Note); bring to a boil. Add cherries and cook for 1 minute. Stir in cranberries; return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until about half the cranberries pop, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Stir in walnuts and orange zest. Let cool completely. (The marmalade will thicken as it cools.) Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Note: A nonreactive pan—stainless steel, enamel-coated or glass—is necessary when cooking acidic foods, such as tomato or lemon, to prevent the food from reacting with the pan. Reactive pans, such as aluminum and cast-iron, can impart an off color and/or off flavor in acidic foods.

Nutrition Per 1/4–cup serving:  91 calories;  3 g fat (  0 g sat ,  1 g mono );  0 mg cholesterol;  14 g carbohydrates; 2 g protein; 2 g fiber; 2 mg sodium; 53 mg potassium.

Eating Well, 2007


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