Trans Fats and How to Avoid Them

When dieting one of the nutritional aspects I keep an eye on closely is the amount of fats I am consuming in my foods. This interest in dietary fats has helped me become familiar with reading the food labels of almost every item I choose at the grocery store. When I see a medium to high amount of saturated fats listed on the nutritional label, I almost always put the item back. Saturated fats are deadly if you’re dieting because they are very high in calories. Saturated fats also contain the bad type of cholesterol.

Olive oil is a healthier option than cooking with hydrogentated oils that contain harmful trans fats.

Olive oil is a healthier option than cooking with hydrogentated oils that contain harmful trans fats.

Saturated fats aren’t the only fats to watch out for when reading a nutritional label. There are also unhealthy types of unsaturated fats called Trans Fats. Trans fats occur when unsaturated fats are hydrogenated. Fats in foods are hydrogenated so that they have a higher boiling point and a longer shelf life. Common examples of foods that contain trans fats include margarine and shortening. Testing has shown that trans fats greatly increase the risk of developing heart problems as well as raising the level of harmful cholesterol.

Despite all the negative aspects of trans fats, they have now become a common feature in modern diets. Due to their high melting point and longer shelf life, they are preferred for baked goods such as doughnuts, pizza, cookies and other packaged snacks. Trans fats are also feature prominently in fried foods, which are mostly cooked with semi solid hydrogenated vegetable oils. However, it should be noted that not all trans fats are as a result of manufacturing processes. In some cases, trans fats occur naturally in dairy products and other animal-based foods. Some liquid oils such as soybean, canola and certain oils have trans fatty acids but are sources of essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Scientists recommend that a person’s daily diet should contain less than one percent of tans fat of their calorie intake. This means that if intake is 1000 calories per day then trans fat intake should be less than 10 calories. Trans fats are known to lower the good cholesterol in the body known as HDL, while increasing bad cholesterol called LDL. This greatly increases the risk of heart complications including heart disease, heart attacks and strokes and is linked to type 2 diabetes. Trans fats also over-stimulate the immune system, which may lead to other chronic conditions.

Unlike non-hydrogenated, unsaturated fats that are beneficial to the body when eaten in moderation, trans fats and saturated fats add no dietary value. A person should therefore be careful when buying food products that have these types of fats listed in their ingredients. It is advisable to study the nutritional facts on labels and choose food with the lowest amount of saturated fat and cholesterol. If the label says ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’ oil, then it contains 5 grams or more of trans fats and it is better to leave it out. All food manufactures of packaged food products are required by law to display the nutritional facts of their products.

It is preferable to choose products with zero grams of trans fats and if the product has even a minimal amount of trans fats, then one should consume vey small portions of the food. With cooking, it is not advisable to use shortening, margarine or other semi solid oils, which contain a high trans fat content unless they are trans-fat free varieties. Preferable alternatives include canola oil, soybean, sunflower oil and olive oil. For more information, please read our article about Healthy Cooking Oils. To reduce trans fat intake, people should keep away from fried foods while cooking at home and dining out.


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1 comment to Trans Fats and How to Avoid Them

  • Mary - Lower Cholesterol Diet

    I find that a good rule of thumb is to avoid processed foods and to switch from vegetable oil to extra virgin olive oil.

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