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What are trans fats?

Trans fats are a type of fatty acid found in the foods we eat. Fatty acids are a source of energy for your body. Fatty acids come from fruit and vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, animal fats and fish oils. Not all fatty acids are unhealthy. For example, moderate amounts of polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats in your diet can actually benefit your health. However, trans fats are an example of a fatty acid that is bad for you. Trans fats are often used in processed foods and commercial baked goods because they are cheap and have a long shelf life.

Why are trans fats unhealthy?

Trans fat may increase the levels of “bad” cholesterol (called low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol) in your body. They also decrease your levels of “good” cholesterol (called high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol). Eating trans fats also increases your risk of developing heart disease.

What types of food contain trans fats?

Small amounts of trans fat occur naturally in foods such as milk, butter and animal meat. But this type of trans fat doesn’t seem to be as harmful to your health as the trans fat found in commercially prepared baked goods, fried foods and snack foods. Examples of foods that often contain trans fats include the following:

  • Margarine
  • Shortening
  • Crackers
  • Cookies
  • Chips
  • Salad dressing

Many foods from fast food restaurants also have high levels of trans fats.

How do I avoid trans fats?

Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet in place of processed packaged foods. Fruits and vegetables are naturally free of trans fats.

You should also read food labels carefully and check for trans fat. Food labels must list trans fat, total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Trans fat will appear in the ingredient list as “hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.”

When you read a nutrition label, keep in mind that companies are allowed to list the amount of trans fat as “0 grams” if the product contains less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving. This means that your food may contain some trans fat even if the nutrition label says “0 grams” per serving. Many foods now say “trans fat free” on the package.

Some fast food restaurants do not use trans fat anymore, but it is important to ask before you order.

Make an effort to eat foods with monounsaturated fats or polyunsaturated fats instead of foods with high levels of trans fat. Monounsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils such as olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil and sesame oil. They are also in foods including avocados, peanut butter, and many nuts and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils, such as soybean oil, corn oil and safflower oil. They are also in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout

How much trans fat is okay?

Ideally, you should get 0 grams of trans fat per day. The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 1 percent of your total calories per day should come from trans fats. If you take in about 2,000 calories each day, you should consume less than 2 grams of trans fat per day.

Source

Dietary Fatty Acids by Brett White, MD (American Family Physician August 15, 2009, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20090815/345.html)

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 02/11
Created: 10/09

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