The Truth About Trans Fat

It is widespread knowledge that trans fatty acids are harmful to one’s health, thus the United States government vowed in June to gradually eliminate them from the American diet by 2018. Trans fats are unsaturated fatty acids, or fats with chemical makeups with one or more double bonds which are stronger and more difficult for the body to break down. Trans fats are known to increase shelf life of food and improve the flavor stability, making them appealing for use in processed foods. They came into existence in the 1950s as a replacement for saturated fats which were receiving an unhealthy reputation. Trans fat were mistakenly labeled as the healthy counterpart to saturated fats and used as replacements in many foods. Diets with trans fats have been proven to increase LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol, as well as decrease HDL cholesterol, the healthy cholesterol thus increasing one’s risk for diabetes, coronary heart disease, and cardiac-related sudden death. The health risks to elevated amounts of trans fats are known and significant. Trans fatty acids are a byproduct of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) and are created in a process called hydrogenation. During hydrogenation hydrogen gas is boiled through oil, allowing the released hydrogen ions to saturate the oil, resulting in double bonds. Trans fats are most commonly found in processed foods such as frozen pizzas, margarine, coffee creamers, snack foods and baked goods. Though animals, such as sheep, goats, cattle, buffalo, and deer also produce natural trans fatty acids. These healthier trans fats, referred to as ruminant-derived trans fats, have been scientifically proven to not be as harmful as their processed counterparts. As always, the key is moderation with ruminant-derived trans fats. 

One cannot completely rely on nutrition labels to identify trans fats in their foods for the FDA allows nutrition labels to claim there is no trans fat in a product as long as the product has less than .5 grams of trans fat. When eating multiple products with hidden trans fat, the total can add up quickly and daily intake will quickly exceed the recommended 1% of daily calories coming from trans fats. So when possible avoid foods with shortening and partially hydrogenated oils listed in the nutritional facts. For oils, use unhydrogenated oils such as canola, safflower, sunflower or olive oil.

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