What Are Trans Fats And Why Should You Care?

oreo-cookiesMaybe you heard the news today that the FDA is considering banning Trans Fats from all foods? What are trans fats, and why should you care?

Trans fats are industrially created by combining vegetable oil with hydrogen via a process called “hydrogenation.” This process turns vegetable oils into solid fats such as margarine, Crisco, and other solid vegetable oils. (Coconut oil is a naturally occurring solid fat and is NOT hydrogenated.) Hydrogenated oils are very inexpensive and don’t turn rancid as quickly as non-hydrogenated oils. Because of this, they are used in the manufacturing of almost all processed foods to increase the shelf life and freshness. This sounds like it could be a good thing.

Though it may help processed foods last longer, scientists and doctors have known for more than a decade that trans fats are the worst type of fat we can ingest. Unlike other fats, trans fats, (short for trans-fatty acids), not only raise your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol but also lowers your “good” (HDL) cholesterol. And having high LDL cholesterol in combination with low HDL cholesterol greatly increases your risk of heart disease.

When the FDA first realized that trans fats were bad for you, they required them to be called out separately on nutrition labels. This was a step in the right direction. However, they decided that processed food manufacturers could legally say a product contained “zero trans fats” if it contained.5 grams or less, per serving. So many products out on the shelves today that claim “zero trans fat” could actually have .5 grams of trans fat per serving. And if you ate more than one serving (cuz let’s face it, who can stop at just ONE Oreo?!) then you’d be getting more trans fats. In fact 2 Oreos have 1 gram of trans fat, 4 Oreos have 2 grams, etc. even though the package says “zero trans fats.”

Trans fats currently can be found in the following commercially baked goods: crackers, cookies, cupcakes and cakes. Many fried foods, such as doughnuts and french fries may contain trans fats as well if they are fried in hydrogenated oils. Shortenings and some margarine are high in trans fats as well.

Research indicates that banning trans fats alone may save upwards of 7,000 cardiac deaths a year, and 20,000 heart attacks. So this is GREAT news that the FDA is being proactive enough to consider banning trans fats all together, for the health of everyone!

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