Tuesday, February 8, 2011

13 popular foods for kids that are sources of trans fat

Photo credit: YGX (Flickr)

Lately, I've been finding that frankenfats keep showing up in some unexpected places in children's diets.  Given all of the evidence of the potentially harmful effects of industrially produced trans fat in the diet, I'm surprised that we're still finding it lurking in the food supply, especially in foods that children commonly consume.  Don't be fooled by labels that suggest a food is trans-fat free.  If a food contains less than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving, it can be labeled as trans-fat free.  While a food may contain little trans fat, there really is no need for trans fat in the diet, and there are plenty of high quality, nutritious alternatives to these foods.  Also, don't be distracted by claims that a food is "High in Vitamin C" or "Excellent Source of Calcium" or "Low-Fat".  It may still contain trans fat.  Always read the food label's ingredient list, and look for  "partially hydrogenated" oils as these are sources of trans fat.  Here's my list of popular kids' foods that contain trans fat.

Fruit snacks:  Fruit By The Foot, Fruit Roll-ups, and Fruit Gushers all contain "partially hydrogenated oil".  Look for options that do not contain trans fat, or make your own fruit leather at home.
Toaster pastries:  You may want to think twice about letting your little ones pop toaster pastries, like Pop Tarts and Toaster Strudels, into their little mouths.  These may be convenient breakfast options, but they  contain trans fat and added sugar.  A more well-rounded breakfast that includes a high quality source of whole grain and protein along with a vegetable or fruit will provide your child with a better balance of nutrients to fuel his day.

Yogurt-covered snacks:  The yogurt coating on snacks, such as raisins, pretzels, or Yogo Bits, is a source of trans fat.  Dried fruit, such as cherries or raisins, are perfectly nutritious snacks for children; however, I draw the line when they're wrapped in trans fat.

Cinnamon rolls:  Refrigerated cinnamon rolls, like Pillsbury Grands Cinnamon Rolls, are certainly a grand source of trans fat, containing as much as 2.5 g per serving.  There are plenty of other nutritious, convenient, and tasty breakfast options available.  Try these.   

Sandwich crackers or cookies:  Although a popular portable snack option, sandwich crackers and cookies are a significant source of trans fat. Keebler's Sandwich Crackers offers 2 g of trans fat per serving.  You're better off making your own mini-sandwiches to take along.

Cookies:  Beware of those Girl Scout Cookies because four varieties contain trans fat.  Refrigerated cookie doughs are even more significant sources of trans fat. In fact, one serving of Pillsbury's Read to Bake Sugar Cookies contains 2.5 g trans fat.  Other popular kids' cookies are also sources of trans fat, too, so read the labels!

Pudding snacks: Sometimes parents rely on pudding snacks as a source of calcium for their children.  While these snacks may contain calcium, they also contain trans fat as well as added sugar.  Yogurt sweetened with real fruit would be a more nutritious option for calcium, potassium, and protein.

Hot cocoa mix:  It can be fun and comforting on a cold, wintry day to warm up with a cup of hot cocoa.  However, hot cocoa mixes also contain trans fat.  It's usually listed within the first three ingredients.  You'd be better off making your own homemade version instead.

Microwave popcorn:  What's family movie night without a little microwave popcorn, right?  Well, unfortunately, microwave popcorn often contains partially hydrogenated oils.  Be sure to read the labels carefully, or better yet, make your own at home so that you can control what goes on it.
Pancake and waffle mixes:  Aunt Jemima might have made breakfast-prep a lot easier, but unfortunately, she, along with Hungry Jack and others, didn't leave out the trans fat.  Homemade pancakes and waffles are really not that time consuming, so give it a shot.

Graham cracker snacks:  No, not Teddy Grahams.  They're so cute!  Yes, and they can also contain trans fat.  There are some graham snacks that do not contain trans fats, so those would be better options.

Vanilla wafers:  Often introduced to babies and toddlers, vanilla wafers can be high in trans fat.  Keebler Vanilla Wafers contain 2.5 g of trans fat per serving.  It's better to help those little ones develop preferences for more nutritious options, like vegetables and fruits.

Animal crackers:  Yes, these seemingly innocent snacks can contain trans fat and few other high quality nutrients.  Scan those labels to avoid trans fats or find more nutrient-dense alternatives.

Do any of these surprise you? If so, which ones?


Natalia said...[Reply to comment]

Hi Michelle,
This is great reference for hidden sources of trans fats which are in so many foods out there. Thanks for informing us on kids and adult friendly snack alternatves:)

Michelle Loy, MPH, MS, RD said...[Reply to comment]

Thank you, Natalia! You are right, adults eat some of these things, too!

Carmen said...[Reply to comment]

Hi Michelle! First, thanks for this blog. I have been reading for a couple of months now. It is so hard to find good nutrition information that isn't propped up by some agenda.

I was most surprised by the microwave popcorn.

Michelle Loy, MPH, MS, RD said...[Reply to comment]

@Carmen Thank you, Carmen! It's a pleasure having you here!

elleshort said...[Reply to comment]

I was at the store to buy butter but ended up buying margarine. At first I grabbed Fleishmann's Olive Oil spread, but when I looked at the ingredients it has "partially hydrogenated" in it, so I picked up I Can't Believe It's Not Butter - Mediterranean Blend. I did not see any "partially hydrogenated" ingredients in the list so I bought it.

Is this good or still not good? Am I being fooled?

I prefer real butter but sometimes buy margarine.

Michelle Loy, MPH, MS, RD said...[Reply to comment]

@elleshort Good question! While there is even still some debate about butter vs margarine, in terms of trans fat, if the margarine doesn't contain the partially hydrogenated oils, then it's free of trans fat. Maybe I'll leave the butter vs. margarine debate to another post:)

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