Trans fats: Why are they so bad?

Trans fats: Why are they so bad?

What are the reasons why you must avoid trans fats? You’ll learn the reasons so that you can maintain your health.

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What are trans fats?

All kinds of fats – saturated fats, unsaturated fats, trans fats etc. Trans fat is considered the worst type of fat you can eat. Trans fats raise the risk of getting heart disease more than saturated fat does. However, you still need to limit saturated fat: never swap trans fats for saturated fat since both are linked to heart disease.

2 broad types of trans fats found in foods:

1) Naturally-occurring trans fats

Naturally-occurring trans fats (conjugated linoleic acid) are produced in the gut of cattle, sheep, and goats, and found in foods made from these animals (ex. milk and meat products). These trans fats make up 3–7% of the total fat in dairy products.

There have not been enough studies to determine whether these naturally occurring trans fats have the same bad effects on cholesterol levels as trans fats that have been industrially manufactured.

2) Artificial trans fats

Artificial trans fats (trans fatty acids) are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid at room temperature (partially hydrogenated oil). This process is called “hydrogenation”.

This type of trans fats is the worst kind for your health unlike the ones from animals. Unlike other dietary fats, trans fat raises your “bad” cholesterol and also lowers your “good” cholesterol. In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) in human food.

The primary dietary source for trans fats in processed food is “partially hydrogenated oils.” 

Why do some companies use trans fats?

  • Easy to use
  • Inexpensive to produce
  • Lasting a long time: Many restaurants and fast-food outlets use trans fats to deep-fry foods because oils with trans fats can be used many times in commercial fryers. 
  • Giving foods a desirable taste and texture

Several countries (e.g., Denmark, Switzerland, and Canada) and jurisdictions (California, New York City, Baltimore, and Montgomery County, MD) have reduced or restricted the use of trans fats in food service establishments.

Trans fat health effects

Before 1990, very little was known about how trans fat can harm your health. So trans fats (artificially-made) became popular. In the 1990s, research began identifying the adverse health effects of trans fats.

  • Increasing your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes
  • Raising your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels
  • Weight gain: Many high-fat foods such as baked goods and fried foods have a lot of trans fat.

2 main types of cholesterol

  • Low-density lipoprotein: LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol can build up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow.
  • High-density lipoprotein: HDL, or “good,” cholesterol picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.

Foods contain trans fats

While food companies are reducing the trans fat content, a number of foods still contain artificial trans fats:

  • Fried foods: doughnuts, french fries, fried chicken
  • Baked goods: cakes, pie crusts, refrigerated dough (biscuits, rolls), frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, cake mix, pancake/waffle mix,
  • Ground beef: frozen burgers, beef sausages, beef hot dogs
  • Meat sticks
  • Frozen dinners
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Nondairy coffee creamers
  • Vegetable shortening 
  • Margarine and other spreads
  • Vegetable oils: canola, soybean, corn
  • Frosting
  • Ice cream
  • Frozen or creamy beverages: shake

Zero trans fat foods

“Zero trans fat” products could contain trans fats

Products can be listed as “0 g of trans fats” if they contain 0 g to less than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving, often a small serving size shows 0 g of trans fat, but it still might be in there. If you had multiple servings, then the whole package will be no longer “0 g trans fat”.

“Zero trans fat” products aren’t always good for you

Food makers may substitute other ingredients for trans fat that may not be healthy either: tropical oils (coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils) contain a lot of saturated fat. Saturated fat raises your total cholesterol.

In a healthy diet, about 20% to 35% of your total daily calories may come from fat. Try to keep saturated fat at less than 10% of your total daily calories. Monounsaturated fat (found in olive, peanut, and canola oils) is a healthier option than is saturated fat. Nuts, fish, and other foods containing unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are other good choices of foods with healthy fats.

How much can you have trans fats?

Experts recommend avoiding or keeping your intake of trans fat as low as possible.

  • Your body doesn’t need trans fat. Avoid!
  • No more than 25% to 30% of your daily calories from fats
  • Limit saturated fat to less than 10% of your daily calories
  • Limit trans fat to less than 1% of your daily calories.

How to limit trans fats

  • Have a whole food diet: Eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy products, lean poultry, fish, and nuts. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid inner aisles where you’re more likely to find processed foods that may contain trans fats.
  • Replace the trans fats in your diet with healthy fatsmonounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats: Foods such as sardines, avocado, and walnuts provide a good amount of unsaturated fats. Use safflower or olive oil instead of butter and other solid fats. These may support brain development, strengthen the immune system, and improve heart health.
  • Switch from solid margarine to soft margarine
    Use soft margarine as a substitute for butter, and choose soft margarine (liquid or tub varieties) over harder stick forms. Limit how frequently you eat them. Recommend to avoid margarine if possible. Swap this for olive oil, grape seed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, or sunflower oil when baking or preparing meals at home.
  • Avoid fried, packaged, and processed foods: Avoid fried foods and baked goods made with shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Not only are these foods very high in fat, but that fat is also likely to be trans fat. Choose foods that are baked, steamed, broiled, or grilled. Not all processed foods contain trans fats. When you eat processed foods, look for one made with unhydrogenated oil rather than partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oils or saturated fat.
  • Replace meats with skinless chicken or fish a few days a week
  • Replace whole-fat dairy with low-fat or nonfat: However, many fat-free or low in fat products (milk, yogurt, and cheese) contain added sugars and refined carbohydrates to replace the fats. These ingredients can increase caloric intake without any extra nutritional value.
  • Limit sugary foods and beverages
  • Read the Nutrition Facts panel on foods you buy at markets
    Read food labels and avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oil listed as an ingredient.
  • Ask a server
    Whether dining in or out, avoid fried foods. Choose foods that are baked, steamed, broiled, or grilled. Many fast-food restaurants use solid oils with trans fat for frying. Often they provide nutrition information on their menus. If you don’t see it, ask your server. You could often find it on their websites.

Reading labels

  • Check the total fat in 1 serving
    Check the number of trans fats in packaged food on the Nutrition Facts panel. Look for “0 g trans fat” on the Nutrition Facts label and no hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list.
  • Count the number of servings you eat in a setting
    Products can be listed as “0 g of trans fats” if they contain 0 g to less than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving, often a small serving size shows 0 g of trans fat, but it still might be in there. If you had multiple servings, then the whole package will no longer be “0 g trans fat”.
  • Look for the words “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list
    It means oils have been turned into solids and trans fats. Remember, “partially hydrogenated” means containing trans fat.

Unsaturated fat

Unsaturated fat is a fat or fatty acid in which there is one or more double bonds in the fatty acid chain. Unsaturated fat is usually called oils. Unlike saturated fat, these oils contain mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.

  • Monounsaturated fat: a fat contains one double bond. Healthy fat.
  • Polyunsaturated fat: a fat contains more than one double bond between the molecules.

Where double bonds are formed, hydrogen atoms are eliminated. Unsaturated fats are usually plant-based, and are typically liquid oils at room temperature. They also occur in solid foods.

Unsaturated fats help lower a person’s levels of LDL cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and build stronger cell membranes in the body. They may also help a person reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. They are good fats.


  • Avocados and avocado oil
  • Coconut oil, palm oils, or whole milk remain as liquids at room temperature but are high in saturated fat.
  • Olives and olive oil
  • Peanut butter and peanut oil
  • Vegetable oils: sunflower, corn, or canola
  • Fatty fish: salmon and mackerel
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, peanuts, cashews, and sesame seeds

Saturated fat

Saturated fats have a very straight structure with hydrogens packed together very tightly and contain no double bonds between their carbon atoms. Hence, saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature, which makes them great as cooking fats. Foods that contain more saturated fat are sometimes called “solid” fat.

Saturated fats have often been grouped with trans fats in researches. Many of the bad effects associated with saturated fats are actually only linked to trans fats. Saturated fats in dairy products are healthy. Good news, right?

Cholesterol & Saturated fats

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that’s mostly made by the body in the liver. It’s carried in the blood as:

Saturated fats raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels.

“Good” HDL cholesterol has a positive effect by taking cholesterol from parts of the body where there’s too much of it to the liver, where it’s disposed of.

Overconsumption of saturated fats can raise “bad” LDL cholesterol in your blood, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Foods contain saturated fat

Saturated fats occur naturally in many foods. The majority come mainly from animal sources, including meat and dairy products.

  • Fatty beef
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Poultry with skin
  • Regular ground beef and cuts of meat with visible fat
  • Animal fat: Beef fat (tallow), pork fat (lard)
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Cream
  • Other dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat (2 percent) milk. 
  • Baked goods
  • Fried foods: French fries, fried chicken
  • Palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil: contain primarily saturated fats, but do not contain cholesterol.
  • Sausages, hot dogs, bacon, and ribs
  • Ice cream and other dairy desserts

How to limit saturated fats in foods

To get the nutrients you need, eat a dietary pattern that emphasizes:

  • Fruits, vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Poultry, fish, and nuts
  • While limiting red meat and sugary foods and beverages.

Choose lean meats and poultry without skin: Prepare them without added saturated and trans fat.

Replace foods high in saturated fats with foods high in monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturate fats.

  • Eat foods made with liquid vegetable oil but not tropical oils
  • Eat fish and nuts
  • Replace meats with beans or legumes

Which fat is best?

Most fatty foods contain a combination of fatty acids. As such, many foods don’t contain just saturated or unsaturated fats, which can make it difficult for a person to eliminate only one type.

Of course, you have better pick healthy fats over unhealthy fats. Oils provide essential fatty acids and vitamin E – as a part of healthy eating. Choosing unsaturated oils instead of saturated fat can help you maintain healthy eating.

However, you always have to remember to limit the intake of healthy fats because they are healthy but have high calories. A few plant oils, including coconut and palm oil, are higher in saturated fat and should be eaten less often.

Conclusion: ARTICIFIAL trans fats are bad. Avoid them ar all the costs. Remember, there are lots of foods that contain trans fats. Eat whole foods instead if you want to be healthy. 

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