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3 Reasons Trans Fats are Bad for You

Important Points:

  • Trans fats
  • Hydrogenated fats
  • Insulin resistance
  • Heart disease
  • Inflammation

3 Reasons Trans Fats are Bad for You

I remember a couple of years back when fast food Sunday treats was the norm for most families. Then slowly, as people became more health-conscious, families began switching to healthier dining options with less processed foods on the menu. So, for those gen Ys who found fast food banned from the family menu, I will give you the 3 reasons why we made the switch. This may also help those who have probably heard that “processed fats are not good for you” without knowing the reasons behind this. Then, next time you want to pick some fried or baked foods from a random store you will take the time to find out whether unhealthy Trans fats are on the ingredient list.

What are Trans Fats?

Trans fats are a form of unsaturated fat that can be found both from natural and artificial sources. Natural trans fats are found in meat from ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats and are created naturally through digestion in the ruminant’s stomach before being passed into dairy products as well as beef and lamb cuts. For the trans fats that occur naturally, there is not much to worry about. Science has shown that these trans fats have a decent safety profile when consumed in moderate amounts by humans. The most common trans fat that occurs naturally is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is mostly found in dairy. It has been found to have some therapeutic benefits including helping in weight loss and bodybuilding. Consequently, CLA is usually marketed as a dietary supplement.

Artificial trans fats, on the other hand, may cause more harm than good. They are commonly referred to as industrial fats or partially hydrogenated fats. Artificial trans fats are derived from vegetable sources, and they are artificially altered to remain solid at room temperature so that they keep longer. Artificial trans fats can be found in fried foods such as doughnuts, and baked goods such as cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, and cookies. Science has shown that artificial trans fats have serious health risks that should dissuade you from using them.

1.   Trans fats are bad for your heart health

Artificial trans fats may increase your risk of heart disease, as some clinical studies have shown. Examples of highly concentrated artificial trans fats are Vanaspati ghee and margarine. It’s been revealed that people who consume high amounts of artificial trans fats are likely to have increased bad cholesterol amounts without a corresponding increase in good cholesterol. Other fats, on the other hand, increase both bad and good cholesterol amounts. According to CDC reports 2019, high levels of low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) may increase one’s risk for heart disease and stroke, and trans fats have also been shown to damage the inner lining of blood vessels known as the endothelium, which can lead to impairment in blood vessel function. In connection, a number of significant studies have shown that consumption of artificial trans fats are linked with the development of the cardiovascular disease.

2.   Trans Fats could Decrease Insulin Sensitivity and Predispose to Type 2 Diabetes

The relationship between Trans fats and insulin sensitivity is currently murky and further clinical research needs to be conducted to give clear direction. One study conducted by the University of Minnesota in 2006 concluded that “high intakes of trans fats may increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, inconsistencies across studies and methodological problems make it premature to draw definitive conclusions at this time. More experimental research in humans is needed to further address this question.”

Another large study showed that those who consumed the most trans fats had a 40% higher risk of diabetes. A number of animal studies have also shown a positive correlation between the consumption of artificial trans fats and insulin resistance which increases the likelihood of type 2 diabetes.

3.   Trans Fats Cause Inflammation

Inflammation is a necessary and useful response when injury or infection has occurred; however, chronic inflammation has been linked to the root cause of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and arthritis. A study published in 2002 showed a positive correlation between the consumption of a diet high in hydrogenated fat and the production of inflammatory cytokines that have been associated with atherosclerosis. Other studies have also shown that trans fats increase inflammation especially in overweight or obese people.

In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of trans fats in food preparation. They “determined that PHOs, the major source of artificial trans fat in the food supply, are no longer ‘Generally Recognized as Safe’, or GRAS.” Too many processed foods still contained unhealthy trans fats as the ban has not been implemented to date, and processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil are the richest source of trans fats in the modern diet.

How to limit your intake of unhealthy trans fats

Although natural trans fats from animal products are considered safe when taken in moderate amounts, consuming artificial trans fats regularly could jeopardize your health.  Industrial seed oil, or the standard vegetable oil in your grocery store, may contain 5% trans fat.  I personally avoid all vegetable oils and stick to saturated natural fats whenever possible.

Limit your intake of processed foods made with vegetable oil such as doughnuts, cookies, crackers, muffins, pies, and cakes. When buying food, read labels carefully and check for any partially hydrogenated items on the ingredients list.

High consumption of artificial trans fats have been linked to long-term inflammation, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease. It’s unfortunate that most of Americans are hooked on fast food which is the biggest culprit for unhealthy trans fats.

References

1.   FDA (2018): Trans Fat. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/trans-fat

2.   NCBI (2014): Trans fatty acids – A risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3955571/

3.   CDC: Cholesterol myths and facts. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/features/cholesterol-myths-facts/index.html

4.   NCBI (2007): A prospective study of trans fatty acids in erythrocytes and risk of coronary heart disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17389261

5.   NCBI (2006): Trans fatty acids, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16958313

6.   NCBI (2002): Effect of hydrogenated and saturated, relative to polyunsaturated, fat on immune and inflammatory responses of adults with moderate hypercholesterolemia. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11893781