What Are Trans Fats and Why Should You Avoid Them?

Among the different kinds of dietary fats, trans fats are the worst kind. They are unsaturated fatty acids that can be natural and artificial (or industrial). Trans fats are made with solidification of liquid oils. During this process, hydrogen is artificially added to the vegetable oils to make them solid. Trans fats can be found in fried and processed foods, readymade cakes, cakes mixes, pies, pie crusts, and margarine. Trans fats improve the taste and texture of processed foods, and helps them stay fresh.

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Health Risks Related To Trans Fats

In humans, trans fats are the cause of many health problems like increase of low density lipoprotein (LDL) and decrease of high density lipoprotein (HDL) levels, as well as cholesterol build up in the arteries. These changes can lead to cardiovascular problems like heart disease or stroke. Trans fats are believed to damage the inner lining of the blood vessels that is a risk marker of coronary heart disease.

Consuming too much trans fats can also result in weight gain, and may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. The exact relationship between trans fats and diabetes is not clear yet. Different studies are examining the association (1, 2, 3).

This is why consumption of trans fats should be lowered to the minimal possible amount. Since they are not essential for our functioning, we can easily omit them from our diets.

How To Identify Trans Fats?

Before buying foods always read their labels. The nutrition label with fat content is included. Check the total fat and trans fat content in one serving. Indication of trans fats are the words “partially hydrogenated” or “shortening”.

It is recommended that trans fats do not comprise more than 1% of your daily calorie intake. Be careful, since less than 0.5 grams trans fats per serving can be shown as “0 grams” or “trans fat free” on the label.

How To Avoid Trans Fats?

Artificial trans fats are chemically changed so they can stay solid at room temperature and therefore have a longer shelf life. The major source of trans fats are partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Since trans fats are mostly found in processed meats and packed foods such as cookies, pies, biscuits, frozen precooked meals, fast foods and so on, try to limit these foods in your diet. Trans fats are often listed among “emulsifiers” in the food.

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However, not all packed foods should be avoided as some of them are prepared healthy. Get used to reading the labels. Look for phrases such as “free of trans fatty acids”, “reduced in trans fatty acids” and “lower in trans fatty acids”.

Trans fats are naturally occurring in the fat from meat and dairy from ruminant animals (cattle, sheep and goat). However, since the amounts are low, these foods should not concern you a lot.

What you can also do is avoid fried food, and include lean meats and fish as part of your diet. Trans fats are frequently used for frying food as they can be used multiple times in commercial fryers.

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When it comes to your everyday diet, replace unhealthy fats such as margarine with healthy like olive oil which is rich in monounsaturated fats.

Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and fish. Eat homecooked meals as much as possible. At last, limit the intake of commercial pre-packed foods.


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