It may be time to update your kids’ lunch. Many of the items busy parents routinely pack – kid favorites such as fruit snacks, granola bar and graham crackers – may contain partially hydrogenated oils. This is the factory-made ingredient that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working to remove from the food supply due to its association with increased heart disease risk. Until the ingredient is completely banished, smart moms need to read snack labels carefully. One of the best ways to identify heart-healthy kids’ snacks is to look for palm oil on the label. This up-and-coming oil is naturally trans fat-free. It’s also non-GMO. Most palm oil used in U.S. products comes from Malaysia, where it is produced sustainably.
The risks associated with partially hydrogenated oils
Oils are an important part of a healthy diet. Unfortunately, a factory process called hydrogenation may turn an otherwise healthy oil into a health risk. Hydrogenation makes oils more solid, increasing their creaminess as well as their shelf life. This process may also produce artificial trans fats. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reducing trans fat consumption in this county could prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks each year.
You’re probably eating more trans fat than you think
Since 2006, the FDA has required food manufacturers to disclose the amount of trans fats on a product’s Nutrition Facts chart. Unfortunately, this order also allowed manufacturers to list their trans fat content as zero if the food contained less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving. This resulted in many Americans consuming more trans fats than they realized, especially when the listed serving size was unrealistically small.
Kids’ foods dominate the list of the worst “hidden fat” offenders
The nonprofit Environmental Working Group analyzed the food categories which were using this loophole. Foods marketed to children such as crackers, kids’ cereals, pretzels, puddings and snack cakes, were some of the worst offenders. “Children’s lower calorie needs and lower trans fats limits make the lack of disclosure of trans fat content even worse,” they state, going on to quote a study which found that 80 percent of children under 11 exceed the World Health Organization’s recommended trans fat daily limit of 1.1 grams per day or less.
This means that moms trying to feed their children a nutritious diet need to dig deeper than the Nutrition Facts chart on their kids’ lunchbox snacks. Reading the ingredient list is a must. If it contains the word ‘hydrogenated’, it likely contains trans fats. If it lists palm oil, chances are the food is free of this unhealthy, industrially created ingredient. Many manufacturers are now choosing to use non-GMO Malaysian sustainable palm oil because it offers the same qualities as the factory-created fats, but it is naturally trans fat-free. Look for this wholesome ingredient in products such as Luna bars and Smart Balance spreads.
Dr. Felicia D. Stoler, America’s Health & Wellness Expert™, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, exercise physiologist and expert consultant in nutrition and healthful living. She was the host for TLC’s reality show, Honey We’re Killing the Kids. She is the author of Living Skinny in Fat Genes™: The Healthy Way to Lose Weight and Feel Great (Pegasus 2011). She specializes in integrating behavior modification to influence positive health outcomes.