During the last decade, many manufacturers and fast food restaurants have voluntarily eliminated or reduced their use of trans fat in food preparation after an onslaught of publicity of scientific studies linking trans fats with heart disease. But there are still plenty of foods made with trans fats, mainly in “comfort” and pre-packaged foods. 

Trans fats are considered harmful because they increase risks for heart disease by both raising bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and lowering good cholesterol (HDL). In 2006, the FDA began requiring food manufacturers to include trans fats on nutritional labels, and in 2007, New York City banned trans fats from restaurants. Food marketers have been gradually going trans-fat-free in recent years -- McDonald's switched to zero-trans fat cooking oil in its iconic french-fries in 2008.

So, what foods are you most likely to find trans fats? Some of the most popular foods that kids woof-down on a fairly regular basis are:

  • Cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pie crusts, pizza dough, and breads such as hamburger buns
  • Some stick margarine and vegetable shortening
  • Pre-mixed cake mixes, pancake mixes, and chocolate drink mixes
  • Fried foods, including donuts, french fries, chicken nuggets, and hard taco shells
  • Snack foods, including chips, candy, and packaged or microwave popcorn
  • Frozen dinners

The FDA currently allows small amounts of trans fats to be included in products that are labeled “trans-fat-free.”  You could actually be getting more trans fats than you realize when eating more than a serving size. And we all know that serving sizes are notorious for not being indicative of what a person usually eats. An example would be one cookie. If you really like the cookies, you’ll probably have more than just one.

The independent Institute of Medicine has already concluded that trans fats provide no known health benefit and that there is no safe level of consumption of artificial trans fat, said Margaret Hamburg, FDA Commissioner.

Additionally, the IOM has recommended that Americans keep their consumption of trans fats as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet. The FDA change could potentially prevent 20,000 heart attacks a year and 7,000 deaths, said Hamburg.  

It’s important for parents to get into the habit of reading nutritional guides listed on food products. Keep in mind that saturated fat is also unhealthy. Products may claim to have 0 trans fats, but still contain partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs). Due to the risks associated with consuming PHOs, FDA has issued a Federal Register notice with its preliminary determination that PHOs are no longer "generally recognized as safe," or GRAS, for short. If this preliminary determination is finalized, then PHOs would become food additives subject to premarket approval by FDA. Foods containing unapproved food additives are considered adulterated under U.S. law, meaning they cannot legally be sold.

Kids need a certain amount of healthy fat in their diet for good brain and nervous system development. Experts say kids older than 2 should get about 30% of their daily calories from fat. Some examples of healthier fats are:

-       Unsaturated fats, found in avocados and olive, peanut, and canola oils

-       Monounsaturated, found in avocados and olive, peanut, and canola oils

-       Polyunsaturated, found in most vegetable oils

-       Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat found in oily fish like tuna and salmon

SourSources: Linda Carroll, http://www.nbcnews.com/health/fda-wants-ban-trans-fats-food-8C11551559

Kimball Johnson, MD, http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/understanding-trans-fats