What are trans fats, and why are they so unhealthy?

What are trans fats, and why are they so unhealthy?

You've probably heard health warnings about trans fats, which are found in many processed and snack foods. But do you know exactly what trans fats are, where to find them and why they are so unhealthy?

Unlike dietary fat, which mostly occurs naturally in food, trans fat—also known as trans-fatty acid—is a byproduct of an industrial food process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, which causes it to become solid at room temperature. Manufacturers then use that partially hydrogenated oil in food products in order to give them a longer shelf life. While some foods do contain small amounts of naturally occurring trans fat, the vast majority of food-based trans-fatty acid is the result of food processing.

According to many physicians and nutritionists, trans fat is the worst type of fat you can eat. In fact, consuming trans fat actually increases bad (LDL) cholesterol and lowers good (HDL) cholesterol in the body, which in turn increases your risk for heart disease, the leading killer of both men and women. The overall unhealthiness of trans fat has even prompted the Food and Drug Administration's move to ban trans fat outright.

Partially hydrogenated oils are found in a wide variety of store-bought food products, including baked goods that contain shortening (cookies, cakes, pie crusts and crackers), a variety of snack foods (most notably potato, corn and tortilla chips), canned biscuits, cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls and breads, frozen pizza crusts, non-dairy creamers and margarine products. Trans fat also shows up in many fried foods served in restaurants.

The best way to avoid trans fats is to carefully read the labels on all food products you buy. Whenever possible, avoid foods that contain trans fats. If the amount of trans fat in a food product is 0.5 grams or above, that information is required to be on the label. Also, look for hydrogenated oil on the list of ingredients—zero-gram trans fat food items (those containing less that 0.5 grams per serving) often still have small amounts of trans fat due to the use of hydrogenated oil in the manufacturing process.

While fat is a necessary part of a healthy diet, you should avoid trans and saturated fats and replace them with foods and food products containing monounsaturated fat. That includes nuts and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids as well as olive, peanut and canola oils for baking and cooking. As a general rule, 25 to 35 percent of your daily calorie intake should come from fat, but only about 10 percent should come from saturated fat.

 

Posted: 6/25/2015 by Goshen Health
Filed under: Cardiovascular, Fats, Health, Heart, Trans

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