Trans fat, Trans fats, Trans fats!

By now, we've all heard the words, but what are trans fats, what do they mean to the average consumer from a health standpoint and are they really that bad for you? Four Kinds of Fat

Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats found in nuts and vegetables, such as avocado, are seen as the good kind of fat, as they lower your cholesterol. Saturated fats have always been labeled as the bad kind of fat, but most doctors will tell you that trans fat is the worst kind, as it not only raises "bad" cholesterol (LDL) but also lowers the "good" (HDL). Having the high LDL and low HDL increases a person's risk for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in women in the United States. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine,  "a 2% increase in trans fatty acids was associated with a 23 percent increase in the incidence of coronary heart disease...." In another study, participants were fed either a diet with trans fat or one with saturated fat. Researchers found that the ability of the blood vessels to dilate was 29% lower in people who ate the high trans fat diet compared to those on the saturated fat diet.  And just incase you weren't totally convinced that it is a big deal, the American Heart Association made a "high-priority recommendation" that food manufacturers and restaurants replace partially hydrogenated oils with low saturated fat alternatives."

Where do Trans Fat Come from?

Have you ever looked on the back of a package and read the words "partially hydrogenated oil"? Most often, you will find them on foods that are not refrigerated and highly processed, which affords the product a longer shelf life. The process injects hydrogen into vegetable oil (which could include soybean oil), changing the molecular structure of the liquid and turning it into a solid, creating a substance like margarine or shortening.  Foods like doughnuts, cookies, crackers and cakes often contain trans fat, as do french fries, which are often fried in partially hydrogenated oil.

Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes?

Companies are taking notice of the growing concern around trans fatty acids.  McDonald's has eliminated them from their oil in which they fry their fries and in 2006, New York voted and became the first city to ban trans fat in all of its restaurants. Now, it's your turn.

What Can you Do?

  • Look for and avoid any foods that contain "partially hydrogenated oil." Ironically, "fully" or "completely" hydrogenated oils DO NOT contain trans fats. Sounds counterintuitive, but true.
  • Don't trust that the product has "Zero Trans Fats" as it may claim on the front of the box.  The United States Government deems it such if it has 0.5 grams per serving or less.  The AHA says that you should max out at 1% of your total daily caloric intake, which for a 2000 calorie a day person, is 2 grams of trans fat.
  • If you have a sweet tooth, bake your own treats at home.  You can control the ingredients and expunge the preservatives, eliminating the trans fatty acids.

Really, for the amount of damage these fats can have on your body, the changes are slight and minimal. And the silver lining to giving up the packaged, processed foods is that you can experiment with your own tasty goodies at home, with your boyfriend, husband or kids.  I've also found that Aunt's like the treats just as well...