When it comes to a healthy diet, we often hear the phrase "everything in moderation." But doctors agree that there is one food that we should not be eating at all. In fact, this ingredient might just be the single unhealthiest food you can eat.
According to Christopher Calapai, a NYC board-certified expert in osteopathic medicine, "There is zero reason to ever eat foods that list 'partially hydrogenated oils' in their ingredients list." Partially hydrogenated oil is a mouthful, but what does it mean? "It's code for trans fats," says Calapai, a type of manmade fat so harmful that in 2015, the FDA ordered that all food manufacturers eliminate it from their products within three years.
As nutrition coach and clinical psychologist Candice Seti of The Weight Loss Therapist explains, "Trans fats are basically vegetable oils that have added hydrogen molecules to change them from a liquid to a solid and ultimately create a longer shelf life (ever wonder why Twinkies last forever?!). The problem with this is that this altered state is hard for the body to break down, so it just hangs out in our fat tissues and actually prevents us from using other proteins and fats." In practice, trans fats are linked to weight gain, high cholesterol, heart disease, inflammation, metabolic disease, arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and stroke.
"Check your labels before buying, and avoid anything with trans fats or hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated anything in the ingredients list!" Seti says.
To help you avoid partially hydrogenated oils for good, here are the four main culprits. No matter your diet, make sure to avoid the following foods at all costs.
Foods That Contain Partially Hydrogenated Oil
According to Calapai, fried food is one of the main offenders when it comes to trans fat. Be especially wary of deep-fried items from fast food restaurants and carnivals.
Packaged cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and other store-bought desserts are usually laden with hidden trans fats (especially the ones covered in frosting). If you're craving a baked good, make one at home using organic coconut oil ($10) instead. (Here's my favorite vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe.)
Crackers, microwave popcorn, and even frozen pizza are a few other trans fat sources to look out for, says Calapai. Pro tip: If your snack of choice can stay in your cupboard for several years without going bad, there are probably trans fats at work.
"Individuals often assume replacing butter with margarine would cut fat content, but some margarine contains hydrogenated oils," says Christy Shatlock, registered dietitian at bistroMD, a doctor designed and chef-prepared healthy meal delivery service. Instead, use extra virgin olive oil ($12) or coconut oil to bring flavor and healthy fats to your meals.
Next up, don't miss "A Day in the Life: How Top Ballerinas Really Eat."