With three small kids who are early risers, my first stop in the morning is for a tall glass of water, followed quickly by a hot cup of coffee or two. Coffee has been found to have some wonderful health benefits for both physical and mental health. I’m certainly not here to urge you to give that up! But before you brew your next cup, let’s consider how you’re dressing it, as unfortunately, when dosed with sugar and creamer, the merits may be outdone by these additions. With this month’s blog focus on healthy cholesterol habits, I wanted to highlight this potential culprit in your daily routine: your coffee creamer, or more specially, the partially hydrogenated oils perhaps hidden in your coffee creamer of choice.
What are partially hydrogenated oils? Food companies use hydrogenated oil to help increase shelf life and save costs. Hydrogenation is a process in which a liquid unsaturated fat is turned into a solid fat by adding hydrogen. During this manufactured partially hydrogenated processing, a type of fat called a trans fat is made.
Trans fats can affect heart health because they increase “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower “good” HDL cholesterol. Since partially hydrogenated oil contains trans fats, it’s best to avoid any food product that contains “partially hydrogenated oil”. The tricky part is that a product labeled as free from trans fats doesn’t mean it is! According to the FDA, a company can label a food free of trans fats if the actual content is 0.5 grams per serving or less. This isn’t the same as 0 grams, especially when you consider that you may be adding multiple servings of creamer to your cup and/or having multiple cups a day. Over the course of a year, you're consuming considerably more than 0 grams of trans fats, as advertised! Some food labels make this claim that “no trans fats have been added”, but then partially hydrogenated oil may still be listed as one of the ingredients. So for those watching their cholesterol levels, particularly, it’s important to read both the food label and the ingredients list as you’re shopping. Partially hydrogenated oils may be used in your dairy or non dairy creamer of choice.
I believe in the power of small, consistent changes that when added up, can have big effects. So check out your coffee creamer; choose one without partially hydrogenated oils, then envision many trans fats you’ll be cutting out from your diet over the course of your week and year with that tweak alone. Your heart thanks you!
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– Keeley Mezzancello, MS, RD, LDN, CHWC
Health Advisor, Registered Dietitian | Email Keeley