There’s a lot of talk about trans fats. What are trans fats, and why are they so bad?
What are they? Trans fats are fats that are created by hydrogenation, or by adding hydrogen atoms to fats, making them more saturated, giving them a higher melting point, and extending their product’s shelf-life. There are trace naturally occurring trans fats in milk and body fats of cattle and sheep. However, studies have shown that trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils are more harmful than naturally occurring oils.
Why are they bad? The consumption of trans fats increases the risk of heart disease by raising levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and lowering levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. Health authorities worldwide recommend that consumption of trans fat be reduced to trace amounts.
In addition to raising “bad” cholesterol and lowering “good” cholesterol, research indicates that trans fat may increase weight gain and abdominal fat, thus, increasing obesity levels.
In a 6-year experiment, monkeys that were fed a trans-fat diet gained 7.2% of their body weight, as compared to 1.8% for monkeys on a mono-unsaturated fat diet, despite a similar caloric intake.
Labels: The current labeling laws allow foods with less than one-half gram of trans fats per serving to round down to “0” grams on the label. But, small amounts of “0” can add up quickly. Consider, that if you eat 3 servings of “0” trans fats, you could have 1.5 grams of trans fat in a sitting.
I believe that we should see the true amount of trans fat per serving on labels. Until that time, avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oils (these contain trans fats). And, another way to see how much trans fat is in your food, you can check the total grams of fat and the amounts of other fats listed on the label. The fats listed should add up to the total fat. If they don’t add up, the missing portion may be trans fat.
See some other great articles on Trans fat in the New York Times.