What are Trans Fats and How Do They Affect the Body?
Hey Readers! I am so thankful that you are here! In this month's post, I am going to get into the nitty gritty of trans fats. All the yummy foods, like donuts and pizza, often contain trans fats. So, what are trans fats and what impact do they have on the body?
What are Fats?
Before we get into what trans fats are, let's briefly discuss what fats are in general. Fats are an essential macronutrient for the human body, and it is recommended that most people consume about 20 - 35% of the their daily calories from fats. Fats are necessary in the body for several reasons: 1) they provide a large source of endogenous energy; 2) they provide essential fatty acids that the body cannot produce, including omega-3s and omega-6s fatty acids; and 3) they are required for the metabolism of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K). There are many types of fats found in foods, including saturated fats, unsaturated fats, and trans fats. Saturated fats are saturated (hence the name) with hydrogen, making them solid at room temperature. Saturated fats are found in foods such as, animal fat, palm oil, cocoa butter, chocolate, and coconut oil, and these fats are generally considered less healthy for the body. In fact, it is recommended that no more than 10% of your daily calories come from saturated fats. Unsaturated fats, in contrast, have less hydrogen molecules in the fatty acid structure, making them a liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are generally considered healthier and are found in foods such as, olive oil, nuts, avocados, various fish, and canola oil.
What are Trans Fats?
Trans fats are made by taking an unsaturated fat, such as oil, and forcing additional hydrogen into it so it becomes a saturated, or solid, fat. A small amount of trans fat can be naturally found in the fatty parts of meats and dairy products, but most of the trans fat consumed in the human diet comes from artificially made trans fatty acids. Foods that contain artificial trans fat include all the highly palatable (i.e. delicious, satisfying) foods, such as fried foods, savory snacks (like chips, popcorn), pizza, baked goods (like cookies and donuts), margarine, ready-to-use frosting, and coffee creamers. Food manufacturers sometimes use artificial trans fat because it is inexpensive and it increases the food's shelf life, stability, and texture.
How Trans Fat Harms the Body
Artificial trans fats are actually quite horrible for the human body, and it is considered the worst type of fat to eat. Indeed, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 recommend that that individuals keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible. Trans fats have been shown to bring about the following negative effects in the body:
Raise LDL (i.e. "bad") cholesterol levels
Lower HDL (i.e. "good") cholesterol levels
Increase inflammation throughout the body
Damage the lining of blood vessels
Increase risk of heart disease, stroke, and type II diabetes
What Can Be Done to Reduce Artificial Trans Fat Intake?
While efforts are underway by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prohibit, or limit, the use of artificial trans fat in foods, there are still things you should do to try to avoid consuming this dangerous fat source. One of the most important things you can do is to read nutrition labels for the foods you buy. Choose products with 0 grams of trans fat on the nutrition label. Keep in mind, however, that foods containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving can be labeled as having 0 grams trans fat, so it is suuuuper important that you read the ingredient list as well. When reading the ingredient list, look for foods that contain "partially hydrogenated oil," as that indicates that the product does in fact contain trans fat. Another way to reduce your trans fat intake is to use unsaturated fats, such as canola or olive oil, in recipes that call for fat. Also, consuming a balanced diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein, and low-fat dairy products is another great tactic to avoid, or reduce, trans fat intake.
Trans fats are prevalent in super delicious foods, like pizza and cookies, but unfortunately, this source of fat is very bad for the human body. It's actually so bad for the body that is recommended for people to limit trans fatty acid intake to as little as possible. There does not appear to be any positive effects from consuming foods with artificially made trans fat. I'll be honest, some of my favorite foods, like chips and pastries, contain trans fats. Even though I strive to eat healthy and fuel my body with appropriate nutrition, I still enjoy the occasional "cheat" here and there. I don't think it is sustainable or realistic to never ever eat foods that contain trans fat; however, I do think it is important to read food labels and try to avoid foods with trans fats as often as possible. For example, if you know you have to go to your niece's birthday party where there will be chicken nuggets, chips, pizza, and cake, then try to avoid highly fatty foods before and after that event. Above all else, listen to YOUR body and fuel your body with whatever food is best for you.
As always, the information presented in this blog post is derived from my own study of nutrition, human movement, anatomy, and yoga. If you have specific questions about nutrition for your body, please consult with your physician, dietician, personal trainer, or private yoga teacher. If you are interested in private yoga and/or personal training sessions with me, Jackie, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about my services. Also, please subscribe to my website so you can receive my monthly newsletters (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can submit your email address). This will help keep you "in-the-know" about my latest blog releases and other helpful yoga and wellness information. Thanks for reading!
~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT, NASM-CPT, NASM-CES, NASM-CNC