Trans fat, also referred to as trans-unsaturated fatty acid or trans fatty acid, is a type of unsaturated fat.

It is of two types:

  • One that occurs naturally in minute amounts in meat and milk fat
  • The other that is artificially manufactured for use in processed foods to economically increase the shelf life of the food product

Artificially, it is prepared from unsaturated fats by a process called hydrogenation. This makes the trans fat (and the processed food) more stable, but more dangerous to health.

This is basically done to enhance the taste, consistency, and shelf life of processed foods. That is why trans fat foods were so popular. In 1990, the health dangers of these fats became known and their popularity started waning.

 Trans fats may be listed as “partially hydrogenated oils” on the label of the product and you should avoid foods whose label mention this content.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared these oils as unsafe to health. Many states have started banning or enforcing strict rules to reduce the content of trans fat in processed foods.

Healthy fats, like unsaturated fats, are always present in a liquid state at room temperature, while saturated fats and trans fats, the unhealthy fats or the bad fats, are present in a solid-state.  

How is trans fat produced and why?

At room temperature, unsaturated fats are present in a liquid state. Trans fats are prepared from unsaturated oils by the process of hydrogenation, which is an industrial process. It is just an inexpensive way to extend the shelf life of foods. 

Hydrogen gas is passed through the heated and bubbling unsaturated fat oil, solidifying it. Sometimes, the hydrogen is passed halfway and you get a butter-like consistency. This is called partial hydrogenation.

Basically, liquid vegetable oils are converted into a semi-solid partially hydrogenated oil.

The idea of making trans fats is to attach every unattached carbon atom of unsaturated fat with hydrogen atoms so that it is not vulnerable to oxidation by the atmospheric oxygen. This enables the trans fat product to stay stable at room temperature and thus increase its shelf life.

How much trans fats should you consume daily?

Your consumption of trans fats should not exceed 1% of your calorie intake. So, if your calorie intake is 2000 calories, the trans fat in your diet should not exceed 2 grams.

Trans fat food examples

Foods with or containing trans fats are typically processed and packed foods. Below are a few examples of trans fats foods:

  • Sugary Cereals which you eat at breakfast
  • Ice cream
  • Butter
  • Margarine
  • Cakes
  • Biscuits
  • Pies
  • Potato chips
  • Doughnuts
  • Pizzas
  • Sauces
  • Gravy mixes
  • Confectionary products
  • Artificial creamers
  • Fritters
  • Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils

Bad health effects of trans fat | Why are they bad?

There is no study yet, which shows any health benefits of trans fats. However, that trans fats are bad for your health is an established fact.

Consuming trans fat raises your LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood and reduces the HDL (good) cholesterol. This is dangerous for your health as it increases your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

The health disadvantages of trans fats are given below to show the various health disorders trans fat can cause.

It is, therefore, advised that you always examine the label of the product for Trans Fats content before buying any packed food. Many manufacturers and eating-places have already drastically reduced the trans fat content of their products. Avoid foods high in trans fats.

How do you avoid trans fat?

  • In a typical supermarket in the U.S., about 40% of the food products on the shelf contain trans fats.
  • The U.S. Food Drug Administration has begun to advise the manufacturers of processed foods to keep the trans fat content to less than 0.5% per serving. In a typical supermarket in the U.S., about 40% of the food products on the shelf contain trans fats.
  • The U.S. Food Drug Administration has begun to advise the manufacturers of processed foods to keep the trans fat content to less than 0.5% per serving.

The fight against trans fat began in 2015 when the U.S. FDA put up the ban on the manufacture of these fats and their incorporation in foods.

The World Health Organization has called for a worldwide ban of artificial trans fats by 2023. You could start avoiding these fats by following these guidelines:

  • What you should eat? Stick to healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grain and cereals, fish, chicken without skin, lean meat and nuts.
  • Avoid margarine as it is made up mainly of refined vegetable oil and water. Instead, opt for olive oil, grape seed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, or sunflower oil for cooking.
  • Avoid or cut down on processed foods.
  • Avoid foods whose labels mention “partially hydrogenated oil” as an ingredient.

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