What are trans fats? Part 1


There are two broad types of trans fats—otherwise known as trans fatty acids—in  foods: (1) the naturally-occurring, and (2) the artificial trans fats. Naturally-occurring trans fats are produced in the gut of some animals, and foods prepared from these animals, such as milk and meat products, may contain small quantities of these fats.  Artificial trans fats, on the other hand, are manufactured in an industrial processes wherein hydrogen is added to the liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. When you use the hydrogenated oil in preparing your foods, such as cookies, doughnuts, frozen pizza, stick margarines, pie crusts, crackers, pastries and fried foods, it will inevitably follow that you take in trans fatty acids when you take these foods! Thus, unknowingly, your  main source of trans fatty acids  is from your diet [1].

Some companies prefer to use trans fats because they are easy to use, less expensive to produce and have longer shelf life.   They, at the same time, provide foods with a desirable taste and texture. In some countries, however, the use of trans fats is restricted because of its ill effects on health [1].

Adverse effects on health

There are two types of cholesterol in your body: (1) high-density lipoprotein  cholesterol, otherwise known as HDL-cholesterol, and (2)  the low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, also known as LDL-cholesterol. The HDL-cholesterol has been proven to be  “good” while the LDL-cholesterol has been found to be “bad”. The reason for this is that HDL-cholesterol has been established by scientific study that it promotes the so-called “reverse cholesterol transport” wherein cholesterol is eliminated from your body, whereas the LDL-cholesterol promotes the deposition of cholesterol in the different tissues of your body, causing the blockage of both the small and large  arteries. Worse and very fatal, the development of obstruction in the small arteries  could  take place in your heart, which could lead to heart attack—medically known as myocardial infarction. When this takes place, you may die!

When you take a lot of foods rich in trans fats, your “good” cholesterol (HDL)  decreases while your “bad” cholesterol  (LDL)  increases. This will  mean that the rate of deposition of cholesterol in your tissues will be faster than its elimination. When this happens, you are prone to develop diseases of the heart and the blood vessels—otherwise known as cardiovascular diseases. Examples of cardiovascular diseases are hypertension, atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the large arteries), and  arteriolosclerosis (hardening and narrowing  of the small  arteries).  Stroke (bleeding in the brain) and diabetes mellitus could also develop because of high intake of trans fats [1].

Preventing the intake of trans fats 

To find out if the food that you are about to take in contains trans fats, look at the “Nutrition Facts” of the product. You can also look at the “list of ingredients”. If “partially hydrogenated oil” is listed as one of the ingredients, then the food product contains trans fats [1].

Ways of lowering the intake of  trans fats and saturated fatty acids

As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, high level of  LDL in your systems is bad for your health, and  all means must be resorted to lower it. In line with this, the American Heart Association recommends that adults need to lower their intake of trans fat and limit their consumption of saturated fat to 5 to 6% of their total daily caloric intake [1].  This recommendation can be achieved through the following ways:

  • Eat a lot of  fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts. In addition,  limit your intake of  red meat and sugary foods and beverages [1].

(To be continued)




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