Are you confused about trans fats?  If so, you're not alone. Trans fats, also known as trans fatty acids, have received a lot of press, but many people still don't understand exactly what they are or where they're hiding.

You might be more familiar with another name for trans fats, which is "partially hydrogenated" oils or fats. They're called "partially hydrogenated" because they're made by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. They give foods a taste and texture that many desire. Also, they're inexpensive and long lasting, which helps extend shelf life. Partially hydrogenated oils used in commercial fryers can be used over and over again.  Fully hydrogenated fats contain saturated fats, not trans fats. Trans fats also occur naturally in small amounts in some meat and dairy products.

Because saturated fats, such as butter, lard and the marbling in meats increase total cholesterol and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, it was once thought that using hardened vegetable oils in place of these saturated fats would have health benefits.  But this didn't turn out to be true.  Instead, research has shown that trans fats, like saturated fats, raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol level and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels.  Eating both trans fats and saturated fats increase your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. 

According to the American Heart Association, you should limit your intake of trans fats to less than 1% of your total daily calorie intake.  For example, if you eat 2,000 calories per day, than no more than 20 calories should come from trans fats.  Since fats provide 9 calories per gram, this equals about 2 grams of trans fats per day. You may be getting that small amount naturally from meat and dairy products, therefore, there is little room left for other added trans fats. 

So you can see that limiting trans fats is a challenge. To find hidden sources of trans fats, it's important to read the ingredient list on food labels.  To help consumers reduce the risk for developing heart disease, in January 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring that food manufacturers list the grams of trans fats on the Nutrition Facts label.  But if a food contains less than .5 grams per serving, the Nutrition Facts label may say 0 grams of trans fats. 

Five possible sources of hidden trans fats include:

  • Fried Foods
  • Baked Goods including pastries, biscuits, pie crusts and pizza dough
  • Candy
  • Crackers
  • Stick margarines and shortening

Remember to read food labels to compare foods and choose foods lower in both trans fats and saturated fats.  Replace trans fats and saturated fats with heart healthy monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and canola oil.  Choose fish and plant based foods more frequently.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­




2. - International Food Information Council

3. - The Food and Drug Administration