Why you should avoid them and where they are hiding

When you’re shopping, you’ve probably seen hundreds of labels claiming that a product contains, “No Trans Fats.” You may have even heard that it’s best to avoid them. So what exactly are trans fats and why should we avoid them?

Trans fats are fatty acids that either naturally or by hydrogenation have double-bonded carbons with hydrogens in the “trans” position, or across from each other. Most of the trans fats in our diet are artificially created through hydrogenation.

 

Hydrogenation

 

http://www.indiana.edu/~oso/Fat/trans.html

The reasons we use artificially-created trans fats is because we can take an unsaturated fat such as vegetable oil,and make it act like a saturated fat, like butter. In the past, saturated fats were considered the “bad” fats, so trans fats were considered a healthier and cheaper alternative. Trans fats also increase shelf life and can help foods that are typically made with butter or lard keep their texture. For example, pie crust made with oil may not be as appealing as a flaky, chewy crust made with butter.

However, trans fats are now known to be far worst than the butter and lard they replaced. This small chemical change has a big impact in our bodies. Saturated fats have been shown to increase LDL (bad cholesterol). However, trans fats both increase LDL (bad cholesterol) and decrease HDL (good cholesterol). This puts us at risk for cardiovascular disease. It is important to note, however, that these results have not consistently been seen with natural trans fats, and their effect is still under debate. For now, it’s best to avoid all artificial trans fats.

Reading the claim, “No Trans Fats” on a label, however, doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Labeling laws in the U.S. allow foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving to be labeled as 0 grams on the nutrition label. This may not seem like a problem, but these small amounts add up with each serving and can quickly impact your cardiovascular health.

To ensure you are avoiding artificial trans fats, look at the ingredient list of foods and avoid products with “partially hydrogenated oils.” These are typically found in tortillas, baked goods or desserts, snack foods, fried foods, non-dairy creamers, and margarine. Take the time to look, and your heart will thank you!

Megan Ostler MS, RD
iFit Dietitian