What are trans fats?
Trans fats, or trans-fatty acids, are a form of unsaturated fat. They come in both natural and artificial forms. Natural, or ruminant, trans fats occur in the meat and dairy from ruminant animals, such as cattle, sheep, and goats. They form naturally when bacteria in these animals’ stomachs digest grass. These types typically comprise 2–6% of the fat in dairy products and 3–9% of the fat in cuts of beef and lamb. However, dairy and meat eaters needn’t be concerned. The best-known ruminant trans-fat is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is found in dairy fat. It is believed to be beneficial and is marketed as a dietary supplement.
However, artificial trans fats — otherwise known as industrial trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats — are hazardous to your health. These fats occur when vegetable oils are chemically altered to stay solid at room temperature, which gives them a much longer shelf life
Trans fats in your food
The manufactured form of trans fat, known as partially hydrogenated oil, can be found in a variety of food products, including:
- Commercial baked goods, such as cakes, cookies and pies
- Microwave popcorn
- Frozen pizza
- Refrigerated dough, such as biscuits and rolls
- Fried foods, including french fries, doughnuts and fried chicken
- Nondairy coffee creamer
- Stick margarine
How trans fats harm you
Doctors worry about added trans fats because they increase the risk of heart attacks, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Trans fats also have an unhealthy effect on cholesterol levels.
There are two main types of cholesterol:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol can build up in the walls of arteries, making them hard and narrow.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. HDL, or “good,” cholesterol picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to the liver.
Trans fats increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
What should you eat?
Foods free of trans fats aren’t automatically healthy. Food makers might substitute other unhealthy ingredients for trans fats. Some of these ingredients, such as tropical oils — coconut, palm kernel and palm oils — contain a lot of saturated fat.
- Saturated fat raises your total cholesterol. In a healthy diet, about 20% to 35% of total daily calories can come from fat. Try to keep saturated fat at less than 10% of total daily calories.
- Monounsaturated fat — found in olive, peanut and canola oils — is a healthier option than is saturated fat. Nuts, fish and other foods containing unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are other good choices of foods with healthy fats.
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