What Are Trans Fats?

Everywhere you look these days labels and commercials shout the absence of trans fats in our favorite foods. You ask yourself what are trans fat? Trans fats are made by a chemical process called partial hydrogenation where liquid vegetable oil is packed with hydrogen atoms and converted into a solid fat. Unlike saturated fats which occurs naturally in many foods, polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats and trans fats are largely artificial and ideal fats for the food industry to work with because of its high melting point, its creamy, smooth texture and its re-usability in deep-fat frying.

The food industry capitalizes on the unique characteristics of trans fats to serve a variety of purposes in many different foods. Partially hydrogenated fats, or trans fats, extend the shelf life of food. They also add a certain pleasing mouth-feel to all manner of processed foods. Think of buttery crackers, popcorn, crispy fries, fish sticks, creamy frosting and pastries; all these foods owe those qualities to trans fats. In the past, hydrogenated fats were seen as a healthier alternative to saturated fats: using stick margarine was deemed better for you than using butter, yet numerous studies now conclude the opposite.

Several prominent studies indicate that trans fats and hydrogenated oils induce many negative side effects, and due to their prevalence in a variety of food items these effects are magnified for persons with unhealthy diets. People with large quantities of trans fat and hydrogenated oils in their diets have been consistently shown to be at greater risk for heart disease, clogged arteries, high triglyceride levels in the blood, and high LDL (bad) cholesterol. Also some studies suggest diabetes and some types of cancer may be triggered by trans fats as well.

Food manufacturers tried to reduce or remove trans fats in time for the January 2006 labeling deadline, when trans fats had to be listed on nutrition facts labels. America’s burger chain, Wendy’s, was among the first of the big fast-food chains to change. New York City’s Board of Health voted unanimously in December 2006 to ban trans fats in all its 24,000 restaurants, from high-end eateries to fast-food joints, becoming the first city in the United States to impose such a ban. Restaurants were banned from using most oils containing artificial trans fats by July 2007, and eliminate them from all its foods by July 2008. Currently, food manufacturers are required to state the number of grams of trans fats per serving. The new labeling requirement make identifying the amount of trans fat in foods easier for the consumer and eliminates the guess work that was once involved when adding trans fat in its various forms as partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated ingredients.

There are several steps you can take to avoid trans fats in your diet. Avoid fast food and commercial baked goods, as these often contain hidden trans fats, but most importantly, read food labels. The FDA requires packaged foods to disclose the amount of trans fats in food products. So how do you know how much is too much? The FDA recommends that a healthy adult consume no more than 10% of saturated fat and no more than 35% total fat intake of your total calorie intake. Look out for the words “shortening”, “hydrogenated” and “partially hydrogenated oil”, as these indicate hidden trans fats. Labels can say “0 grams of Trans Fat” even if partially hydrogenated fats are listed in the ingredients as long as a serving size contains less than 0.5g of trans fats. The catch is that all those fractions of a gram can add up if you eat more than a single serving. In an age where obesity related diseases are the greatest killers of the American public, it is vital that every person be knowledgeable of what they put into their body, to increase your knowledge about nutrition please visit

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Sources: American Dietetic Association. (2010). Retrieved on August 10, 2010 from http://www.eatright.org/public/
 U.S National Institutes of Health. (2010). Retrieved on August 10, 2010 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/dietaryfats.html
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