Friday, November 1, 2013

The Truth about Trans Fats

The Truth 
about Trans Fats

People often say “you are what you eat” and it is thrown around playfully, but it actually could and should be taken quite literally. It is always beneficial to reflect on what one puts inside their body, but how can we do that without proper information? As a mother it became vital to me to ensure that my daughters and I received the best possible nutrition. So years ago I began my research of sources like the FDA, USDA, CDC, Universities and other places of research from around the world, listening to lectures, watching documentaries, and reading case studies and articles. So today I want to share with you a few pieces of what I have learned about nutrition, specifically fats and a particular kind of fat known as trans-fatty acids, also known as hydrogenated oils. I want to explain what they are, what they do to your body, and where they are found.
          In order for you to understand Trans-fats, allow me to give a quick lesson on fatty acids. As Dr. Michael Greger of Cornell University explains in his lectures about nutrition around the world, there are three different types of fatty acids. There are the mono-unsaturated fats which are liquid to semi-liquid and are found in nuts, avocados, olive and canola oil. In moderation these fats are quite good for you. Then there are the poly-unsaturated fats which are liquid fats and they are varying ratios of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Those heavy in Omega-3’s are very good for you but fats and oils high in Omega-6’s are not. Then there are the saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature. These are found in coconut oil, palm oil, and animal fats and these are very bad for you, especially animal fats because they contain cholesterol. There are conflicting opinions about coconut oil, but that is a discussion for another time.

Then….there’s Trans fats. The only natural source for Trans-fats is animal fat, but most Trans-fat is an artificial form called hydrogenated oils, which is created when hydrogen atoms are fused to the molecules of liquid fats in order to make them more solid. This process makes liquid fats partially or completely saturated. Food manufacturers’ do this to save money because hydrogenated oils increase the shelf life of processed foods and also improves and stabilizes the texture.

The drawback of using hydrogenated oils is that they wreak havoc on the body. There is a growing number of health risks associated with the consumption of trans-fats. A study lead by Professor and Director of Nutrition at Rush University, Martha Morris, found a strong positive correlation between trans-fat consumption and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. A 6 yearlong study was published in 2006 from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Salem, North Carolina which found that consumption of trans-fats greatly increases the rate and severity of fat storage. Another 6 yearlong peer-reviewed study from a team of scientists in Spain, lead and authored by Almudena Sanchez-Villegas, studied the effects of different fatty acids on the depression levels of over 12,000 people previously unaffected by depression and found that those who consumed a diet including trans-fats had a 48% greater risk of suffering from depression.

The consensus is clear across the board, however, that the single most obvious and proven detriment to eating trans-fats is the damage it does to the heart. The FDA, USDA, CDC, and the American Hear t Association all agree that trans-fatty acids act like super saturated fats in the body by increasing your levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. They ALSO decrease the body’s production of “good” cholesterol, or HDL, which is the cholesterol our body’s produce on their own to protect the arteries from damage. So trans-fats cause the potential for injury, inflammation, and clogs. Over all, they greatly increase the risk for Coronary Heart Disease, and heart disease is currently the number one killer in the country. Doctors and scientists agree that there is no safe minimum consumption of Trans-fatty acids, nor is there any health benefit to consuming them. Trans-fats even in small amounts tend to store up in the body and stay in the system.

So where are trans-fats? Well, they can be almost anywhere, in anything. They are found in most store bought cakes and other baked goods – including bread, cake mixes, cookies, frosting, creamers, cereal, crackers, popcorn, peanut butter, fried food, fast food, snack food, margarine, shortening, and butter spreads, and pretty much anything that is prepackaged or processed in anyway. The only way to be certain whether or not hydrogenated oils are in your food is to read the labels. You have to beware though, even claims of “0g of Trans-fat” on the package, even in the nutritional facts, does not always mean zero. Legally, food manufactures can have as much as a half a gram of trans-fat in their product per serving without having to declare it on the label, but they do have to put it in the ingredients list. So reading the ingredients list located below the nutritional facts and looking for the words “hydrogenated” or “partially-hydrogenated” is the only way to be sure.

 In short, Trans-fats are mostly genetically manipulated fats which are very bad for health, especially the heart, and the only way to know where they are is to read the ingredients list in everything you buy. If you want to learn more, by all means, visit the websites for the American Heart Association, the USDA, the FDA, the CDC, and the lectures of Dr.Michael Greger, which are very educational and can be found on YouTube, he also has a website.

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American Heart Association (n.d.). “Fats and oils: trans-fats”. Retrieved from

Center for Disease Control (2012) Trans-fat: the facts.

Food and Drug Administration (n.d.). “Talking About Trans Fat: What You Need to Know”. Retrieved from

Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Tangney CC, Bennett DA, Aggarwal N, Schneider J, Wilson RS (2003). "Dietary fats and the risk of incident Alzheimer disease". Arch Neurol 60 (2): 194–200. doi:10.1001/archneur.60.2.194. PMID 12580703.

Michael Greger, M.D (2003). “Forty year old vegan dies of a heart attack! why?”

Roan, Shari (2011-01-28). "Trans fats and saturated fats could contribute to depression". Sydney Morning Herald.

"Six years of fast-food fats supersizes monkeys". New Scientist (2556): 21. 2006-06-17.

United States Department of Agriculture (n.d.). “Trans-fats on the nutrition facts label”. Retrieved from website: