Many of the snacks busy parents routinely pack in their kids’ lunch boxes – graham crackers, fruit snacks, granola bars – may contain partially hydrogenated oils. This is the factory-made ingredient associated with increased heart disease risk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working to remove it from our food supply, but before it is completely banished, smart moms should read snack labels carefully. Despite some of the public’s misperceptions about palm oil, it is safe to feed your children because it is a non-GMO oil, naturally trans fat-free oil. Most palm oil used in U.S. products is produced sustainably in Malaysia.
Partially hydrogenated oils are risky
We all need healthy oils in our diets. Unfortunately, hydrogenation may transform an otherwise beneficial oil into a health risk. So why do companies do this? Hydrogenation takes a fat that is liquid at room temperature and converts it to a product that is solid. It also increases their shelf life. But the hydrogenation process may also produce artificial trans fats, which we cannot properly break down and clear from our bodies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that reducing trans fat consumption in the U.S. could prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks annually.
Your kids may be eating more trans fat than you think
The FDA has required food manufacturers to disclose the amount of trans fats on their products’ Nutrition Facts chart since 2006. But there’s a loophole that is only now in the process of being closed. Manufacturers can list their trans fat content as “zero” if the food contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving. This has resulted in people consuming more trans fats than they realized, especially when the serving size on the label does not represent actual consumption patterns.
Kids’ foods are some of the worst “hidden fat” offenders
The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization, analyzed the food categories using this loophole. Some of the worst offenders were foods typically marketed to children such as pretzels, kids’ cereals, puddings, snack cakes and crackers. “Children’s lower calorie needs and lower trans fats limits make the lack of disclosure of trans fat content even worse,” they state, quoting a study which found that 80 percent of children under age 11 exceed the World Health Organization’s recommended trans fat daily limit of 1.1 grams per day or less.
Moms wanting to feed their children a heart-healthy diet should dig deeper than the Nutrition Facts panel on their kids’ snacks. Start by reading the ingredient list. If it contains the word ‘hydrogenated’, the snack likely contains trans fats. Many manufacturers are switching to non-GMO Malaysian sustainable palm oil because it is naturally trans fat-free while offering them the same qualities as the factory-created fats. This wholesome ingredient can already be found in products such as Smart Balance spreads, Nutella and Luna bars.
About the author: 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.