What is Trans Fat?

Part of the purpose of this blog is to help educate people about what they put into their

Crisco’s label boasts that it has “50% less Saturated fat than Butter,” but the fact is that shortening has partially-hydrogenated oil (trans fat), while natural butter does not.

mouths, and essentially, into their engines of energy (aka their bodies).  This post intends to clarify a bit about trans fat: what it is, why it’s harmful, what it look likes on an ingredient label, and what foods you would find them in.

Trans fat in its most basic definition is the addition of hydrogen to oil through a process called hydrogenation[1].  This creates a very stable substance that doesn’t spoil or break down, and it’s used to extend the shelf life of packaged food products.  Food manufacturers and bakers use ingredients with trans fat (i.e. shortening) because they produce foods with better baking qualities and enhanced flavors.[2]

The unfortunate part about trans fat is that the human body doesn’t recognize the difference between trans fat and saturated fat, and saturated fat is the healthy heart’s number one nemesis.  A diet high in saturated fat contributes to a variety of problems, including raising LDL levels (low-density lipoproteins, the “bad” cholesterol), and increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease.[3]  Trans fat, in addition to these risks, also decreases the levels of HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins), the “good” fat that provides essential amino acids to the body, and lowers the risk of heart disease.  Also, because trans fat contributes to elevated cholesterol, the risk of developing atherosclerosis increases.

Atherosclerosis is the hardening of artery walls due to buildup of blood waste products (fat, cholesterol, etc) called plaque. The accumulation of plaque makes arteries increasingly inflexible and narrow, and can contribute to strokes and heart attacks when blood is unable to pass through the narrowed chambers.

If you are a packaged food eater (and even if you think you’re not), you might be surprised to know where trans fat is hidden on the shelves.  It goes by the name of “partially-hydrogenated oil” and it can even exist in packages that say “0 trans fat.”  That’s because the FDA regulations allow for up to .5g of trans fat per serving for products to make the “0 trans fat” claim on their labels[4].  For that reason, it is absolutely critical for consumers to READ the ingredient labels of food products before buying it.  Below is a list of common food items that typically have partially-hydrogenated oil in the ingredients:

-Peanut butter
-Sweet treats (cookies, cakes, candy, doughnuts, icing)
-Packaged popcorn
-Crackers
-Vegetable shortening
-Fried foods
-Pie crusts, pizza dough, breads
-Pre-made cake and pancake mixes
-Snack foods
-Frozen dinners

Crisco vegetable shortening has both partially and fully hydrogenated palm oils in its ingredients, making it a source of saturated and trans fat.

And contrary to what you may think, if a product reads “fully” or “completely hydrogenated,” it actually does not contain any trans fat, although it is still has saturated fat.

Finally, I just want to emphasize again how important it is for consumers to be informed label-readers if they are going to buy packaged products. The best route in most cases is to buy whole, unpackaged foods, like fruits, nuts, veggies, bean varieties, and whole grains…then there’s nothing to worry about in the labels. But for people who do buy pre-packaged foods, you need to be your own health advocate and learn what your putting into your body, and how that affects you internally.

For consumers who don’t want to take extra time to read the labels, below is a list of a few companies I’ve found that avoid putting trans fat into some of their products and offer healthy, alternative & tasty foods to try.

Butter products: Smart Balance, Earth Balance, Land O’ Lakes (select varieties)
Snacks (cookies, crackers, Granola bars): Kashi, Newmans Own, Clif Bars, Nature’s Valley oat bars (i.e. Honey ‘n Oats)
Peanut Butter: Smuckers Natural, MaraNatha, Planters Natural, Skippys Natural, Smart Balance
Cake/cookie/brownie Mixes: Naturally Nora, King Arthur Flour (most mixes)

These represent just a small portion of the many health food companies & products out there, and I encourage you to find more as you shop.  But as always, the best meals are typically homemade anyway, so why not save money, put on your chef’s hat, and cook your way to healthier lifestyle? Everyone has a spark of creativity inside, and sometimes the kitchen is a wonderful place to feed that flame and make something tasty. I’d love to hear some of your stories of healthy food creations you’ve made in your kitchen.  Cheers!

FITNESS AGON

The place of struggle

“Run with endurance the race that is set before you.” Running the race is the culmination of months of sweat & struggle.

It’s tricky to come up with a title that embodies catchiness, meaning, thought, intrigue and relevance…all pre-requisites for an effective blog or book title.  “Fitness Agon” is my attempt to convey these traits for the purposes of this blog.
So what does it mean?  “Agon” represents a Greek concept, referred to in a few places in the Bible, that captures the idea of conflict or struggle. Used in Hebrews 12:1-2, “agon” is translated to race in English, so in many Bible translations, the verse reads something like this:
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith….”
I don’t claim to be a Bible scholar or have much knowledge of Greek; I do however, own a book that makes up for my inadequacies.  If you are a Bible reader and desire to get a comprehensive look at Scripture passages, I encourage you to use a book like Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.  This book shows where every word of text in the Bible is used, and also offers dictionaries for Hebrew and Greek words of the original words, with references to the English words.  My personal copy is based off the KJV version, but you can get other versions as well.

The start of a new endeavor can be thrilling and daunting at the same time, but to finish the race, starting is an must.

So as I looked into a new title for the blog, I simply referred to the concordance for references to “race” in the Bible, and looked at the Greek root.  That is where I learned about “Agon.”  In Greek context, it refers to the place where the national fitness contests took place, or the struggle that embodies the competition.  In English, “agon” refers a literary conflict between the protagonist and antagonist.
For my purposes, I am using “agon” to represent the struggles and challenges associated with living a fit and strong life.  As many of you know, this lifestyle is not easy; in fact, it’s a battle!  Daily we war against the temptations of food, depression, self-worth, pain, negativity and more as we pursue wholeness.  But if you are in the midst of that conflict, take heart.  The battle is not without a payoff.  While the external milestones (losing weight, getting off meds, finishing a contest, etc.) teach us valuable life lessons, the best lesson is that our successes will be remembered.  “Agon” used in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 gives us this promise:
 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
God sees your struggle and hears your cries of pain, despair and discouragement and he does not ignore you.  Keep fighting, and he will reward you better than you can ever imagine.

The pain and struggle of the race will always be worth the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when we cross the finish line.

EPIPHANY IN THE SINK

Although my blog has officially been up for a year and a half, I’ve been lax over its upkeep, to say the very least.  My average posting rate is probably similar to a lot of people’s exercise routines…non-existent.  And my excuses are probably not much different…busy with life, work, family, church, volunteering, etc.  Unless it’s a fixture in my routine, and there’s an concerted effort on my part to make this succeed, my blog’s future will probably end up much like the martini shaker that my husband & I got for a wedding gift three years ago: it seemed like such a great idea to put it on the registry, never mind the fact that we hardly ever drink.

 

I’m guessing that I’m not alone in my struggle to start a new habit, and then fail.  It seems that a lot of people face that same conflict, especially seen around every New Year’s Day, when magazines, health clubs, and every business in America pounces on consumers to make new resolutions.  It seems there is a profound desire in every person to better themselves, and despite the adage that says “People don’t like change,” I tend to think that with the right motivation and achievable results, people actually do pursue change.  The problems come when motivation diminishes, and the results seem gargantuan.

 

Enter my new motivation for this blog.  Well, let’s first start with my first motivation, which was to provide an understandable, yet scientific site for individuals to embrace healthy lifestyles.  Since I possessed little knowledge of the blogosphere, I looked to my husband’s example. He writes on religion, Muslim evangelism, and current events.  He does a lot of research, and writes scholarly articles for Yahoo!.  He pores over articles and sometimes takes weeks to write a post for his blog.  Needless to say, that approach proved rather daunting to me; so daunting, in fact, that I entered a blogging paralysis.  I realized that while scientific articles offer great perspective, they also take a lot of time, which I tend to lose all the time.

 

So 583 days later, I had an epiphany where most great epiphanies take place…washing dishes.  I thought about the lifestyle changes I’ve made since entering the fitness career field, and how easy many of them have actually been.  Then I thought, why don’t I write about that for my blog?  Personal experience is way more motivating and fun to write about than research.  Although I haven’t completely given up on my first ambition, my new motivation is simply this…to write on a conglomeration of topics, from recipes to fitness gear to exercise studies…anything fitness or health related that I find interesting that I hope interests you as well.

 

I hope my newfound motivation speaks into your life as well, and that you will be challenged and encouraged by my posts to jumpstart your own ambitions.  And in the mean time, I hope you enjoy the posts to come!