You may be shocked to learn that many brands of the following foods—including some unlikely suspects—contain small amounts of saturated fat from tropical oils. Manufacturers add these fats to foods to improve the taste, texture, and shelf life of a wide range of products. (To make matters worse, these oils are often partially hydrogenated, which make them even more unhealthy.)
1. No-stir “all-natural” peanut butter. Peanut butter is a fantastic food. And buying all-natural varieties helps you avoid high-fructose corn syrup and other unwanted ingredients. Yet not all all-natural peanut butters are created equal. If the label reads “no-stir,” be very suspicious—and turn the jar around to inspect the fine print. Chances are, the ingredients list includes palm oil, which some manufacturers add to prevent the peanut oil from separating from the peanut butter.
2. Breakfast cereal and breakfast bars. Choosing the wrong breakfast cereal can start your day off with a major dose of bad carbs. But even if you’ve switched to granola or a whole-grain brand of cereal, beware: Some healthy-seeming varieties contain added tropical oils. For instance, one popular oat cereal serves up a surprising—and completely avoidable—3 grams of saturated fat per bowl. The same is often true of breakfast bars, including some varieties that are marketed as healthy choices for people on the go. There are plenty of good breakfast cereals and energy bars to choose from that contain zero grams of saturated fat; make sure yours is one of them.
3. Candy, cookies, and cakes. Here’s a little-known fact: Some candy bars are worse for you than others. That’s because some contain tropical oils that ratchet up the saturated fat content. Consider: Some candy bars have more saturated fat (up to 11 grams) than a cheeseburger (9 grams), due in large measure to added palm oil and palm kernel oil. It’s not as though you should never eat candy again; in fact, a little dark chocolate now and then is good for your heart. But don’t buy sweets of any kind with added tropical oils.
4. Chips, crackers, and other salty snacks. Palm oil stands up well to heat, so manufacturers often use it to fry potato chips and bake crackers. Bagel crisps may be cooked with palm oil, too, as are those addictive wasabi peas that have become so popular recently—toss back a few handfuls and you could tack a few grams of saturated fat onto your daily total. Chips, crackers, and other salty snacks are high-calorie treats, so you’ll want to choose healthier foods for between-meal munching. But when you do indulge a taste for salty snacks, look for varieties cooked in a healthier fat, such as canola oil.
5. Instant noodles. They’re a budget-friendly meal you can whip up in a minute, but do you realize that a single cup of instant noodles can pack more saturated fat than a medium-size order of French fries? There’s little else to recommend about quick noodles, nutrition-wise—they’re usually high in sodium and brimming with unpronounceable chemicals, too. Bottom line: Don’t buy instant noodles. If you can boil water, you can make regular noodles instead.
6. Microwave popcorn. Popcorn is an ideal healthy snack—unless it’s popped with palm oil. Mcrowave popcorn may be convenient, but many brands contain saturated fat from this ubiquitous tropical oil. Buy real popping corn and pop it in an air-popper to keep it light, airy, and low-fat.
7. Pancake mix. What are tropical oils doing in your pancake mix? Adding 2 grams of saturated fat per serving, even before you’ve topped the stack with a pat of butter. Don’t buy pancake mix. If you like flapjacks, make them from scratch with flour (mix in some whole-wheat with the white), baking powder, eggs, sugar, milk, and salt.
8. Powdered coffee creamer. Nondairy doesn’t mean nonfat. This stuff often contains coconut oil. True, it’s only 0.5 gram of saturated fat per cup (250 mL). But if you have a few cups a day, seven days a week—you get the idea. Fat-free milk is a much better choice if you like your coffee a lighter shade.