Now that Americans, food manufacturers and restaurant chains have made trans-fats part of their every day vernacular and a daily avoidance in their diets, enter a new unhealthy fat also found in processed foods: Interesterified fat.
A bit more difficult to pronounce than “trans fatty acids,” but equally dangerous, interesterified fats are liquid oils, rather than a semi-solid fat, like the now taboo, trans fats.
To get a jump on this new addition to the health dictionary, read on to learn where this additive may be lurking in your kitchen and how it might be hurting your health.
What is Interesterified Fat
Food manufacturers are many things, but sneaky may just be their expert role. In trying to work around the trans fat labeling guidelines, they have learned how to mix fully hydrogenated oil with liquid polyunsaturated oil to create a consistency similar to trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oil.
Remember that trans fats are simply liquid fats that have been pumped with hydrogen to create a solid. When it comes to food manufacturing processes, a solid fat offers many benefits including being more cost-effective than regular liquid fat and more shelf-stable, so that packaged foods can hang out in your pantry or in the food manufacturer’s warehouse for years and still be edible. Unlike dietary fat, trans fats are not essential for our body’s functioning and they have been linked to heart disease since they raise bad cholesterol levels and lower good cholesterol.
Interesterified fats are chemically-processed fats whose main purpose to accomplish the same objective as trans fats, namely to prolong shelf-life. And since they are not trans fats per se, manufacturers that label products as “trans fat free” can legally do so, even though interesterified fats pose some serious threat to our health as well. According to Monica Reinagel, M.S., a nutritionist, chef and blogger on Nutrition Data, interesterified fats appear to have the same doubly negative effect on cholesterol levels as trans fats. And they may also increase blood sugar levels.
Where to Find Interesterified Fats
Interesterified fats are found in the same culprits as trans fats: Processed foods and packaged baked goods like cookies, crackers, granola bars, some candy, margarine, shortening and frozen convenience foods.
Decoy words for interesterified fats include “high stearate,” “stearic rich oils” or simply as “interesterified oils.” Look for these on the ingredient label.
What to do
Ignore the front side of a product’s packaging and instead make it a knee-jerk reaction to turn the box over and read the ingredient label thoroughly. Look for those words that denote whether a product contains interesterified fats. If it does, set it back on the shelf.
Your best bet is to eat only foods in their natural state or have a maximum of five ingredients. You can bet your 401k (or whatever is left of it) that a pound of sweet Gala apples, earthy-smelling sweet potatoes, organic grass-fed eggs, nutty garbanzo beans and chewy brown rice won’t contain a smidgen of interesterified fats.