Trans Fats Explained

One of my least favorite topics has been in the news again recently: Trans fats. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind the conversations. I just wish that this unhealthy fat wasn’t so prevalent in our food supply. And if it didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have to have these conversations. But sadly, my dream world doesn’t yet exist. Trans fats are here, and they seem to be here to stay. A recent study even found that they may not have all of the negative health effects that were previously associated with consuming this type of fat.

According to an October 2012 review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating more trans fatty acids will not change glucose, insulin or triglyceride levels. Does that mean that it’s time to chow down on all that junk food? Not so fast. The review also found that consuming these fats will, in fact, increase total and LDL-cholesterol and decrease HDL, or good, cholesterol levels.

So, now you know that you should still avoid trans fats, but do you really know what they are? In simple terms, trans fatty acids are a type of fat that is created by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oil. The hydrogen makes the fat more solid and allows for a longer shelf life. Usually this is a manmade process, but small amounts of trans fat can also occur naturally in some meat and dairy products.

According to the American Heart Association, you should limit your trans-fat consumption to less than one percent of your total daily calories. So on a 2,000 calorie diet, you should be eating less than 20 calories from trans fats. If you’re currently getting more, it’s time to cut back. Here are some tips for reducing the amount of trans fats in your diet.

  1. Avoid hydrogen. If you see “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated,” that means the food includes trans-fat. Remember, trans fatty acids have hydrogen added, so they are hydrogenated.

  2. Consider avoiding fried foods. Fried foods do not always contain trans fats, but if they are cooked with hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils, they do. If you don’t know how the food has been cooked, consider avoiding it altogether. Order something that has been steamed instead.

  3. Take special care to read the labels when buying cake mixes, ramen noodles or baked goods. These foods are notorious for including trans fatty acids. You can certainly find some that don’t, but you have to read the labels.

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