Trans fat is an artificial unsaturated fat which contains trans-isomer fatty acids. While most fats have health benefits and are, in fact, necessary for maintaining health, trans fats are not at all healthy and eating them can increase the chances of heart disease.
Trans fats are created when unsaturated fats such as vegetable oil, are hydrogenated in order to create a more solid fat, such as margarine. These partially saturated fats store for longer, and are cheaper to produce than many saturated fats, such as butter. Oils with trans fats are also often used by restaurants as they can be heated multiple times to fry food without being changed.
Why You Should Avoid Trans Fat
Trans fat has few health benefits and can harm your health in many ways. Eating trans fats will increase your bad cholesterol, or LDL, the type of cholesterol that is implicated in heart disease and strokes. In fact, trans fats have been shown to increase the chances of heart disease more than any other type of macro nutrient. So far there has been less research into other effects of trans fats, but some studies have shown that trans fats may also increase your risk of diabetes, some types of cancers, Alzheimer's disease, and even infertility. Trans fats have also been shown to increase the percentage of abdominal fat in monkeys. Carrying abdominal fat can also raise the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.
The American Heart Foundation recommends that people get less than one percent of their daily calories from trans fat, as even small amounts can sharply increase the risk of heart disease. This means, on average a person should try to consume 20 calories or less of trans fats per day. As trans fats do naturally occur in trace amounts in meat and milk, this means trying to cut out industrially created trans fats altogether.
How to Recognize Trans Fats
Trans fats are usually included on the ingredients labels for processed foods, with the amount in grams per serving. This should be very low, or non existent. Remember that you want to keep to less than 2 grams of trans fats per day.
However, in some cases, if the food contains less than .49 of a gram of trans fat, it might be labelled as not having trans fats. As even this small portion can quickly add up to more than the recommended daily amount, it is a good idea to also check the ingredients. If they include partially or fully hydrogenated oils, or shortening, the product probably contains some amount of trans fat. Remember to also ask restaurants what they fry their food in to determine whether or not they use trans fats. Pure vegetable oils such as canola, olive, peanut, sunflower or corn oils are best.
Trans fats have only been recently recognized for the damage that they can do, so manufacturers have been slow to react. However, it is possible to protect yourself from the possible side effects of consuming trans fats by ensuring that you eat as little of them as possible.