Trans fats, also known as trans fatty acids, also known as partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils are the "bad", non-essential fats produced by the addition of hydrogen atoms in a chemical process to oils such as vegetable oil to make them more solid.
Fats are needed in the diet for certain functions such as energy production, brain development, normal growth and other important cell functions.
There are three kinds of fats: Polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated.
Monounsaturated: These are fats found in foods such as olive oil, canola oil and avocados.
Polyunsaturated: Are found in foods such as salmon, mackerel and walnuts. This is where we can get our essential fatty acids (to be discussed later), otherwise supplementation is needed.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the two forms of fats that are really beneficial to the human body.
Saturated fats: These are also "bad" fats and are found in palm oil, red meat and certain dairy products. The body does need saturated fats, but in small amounts since high levels contribute to clogged up arteries and high cholesterol levels.
The other "bad" fats, trans fats, (will be discussed in greater detail later), are unsaturated fats- with added hydrogen atoms. So "bad" fats can either be natural, as in the form of red meat and palm oil or "man-made", as in margarine and cookies.
What the diet should include are the two essential fatty acids, (essential because the body cannot produce them); specifically the diet has to contain alpha linolenic acid (ALA) - from the omega-3 family, and linoleic acid (LA) - from the omega-6 family. Since ALA and LA are the two essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 supplements are the more sought out omega supplements.
There are actually three main fatty acid families: the omega-3s, omega-6s and omega-9s.
The omega-9 fatty acid family is made up of:
- Oleic acid
The omega-6 fatty acid family is made up of:
- Linoleic acid (LA)
- Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)
- Arachidonic acid (AA)
The omega-3 fatty acid family is made up of:
- Alpha linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexanoic acid (DHA)
The body can manufacture the omega-9 fatty acid oleic acid.
The diet of those in the Western World, however, is high in omega-6s and not high enough in omega-3s, and there has to be a balance between the intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Therefore, of supplements containing these fatty acids, the purchase of omega-3 containing supplements far exceeds the purchase of omega-6 supplements.
Continuing on with trans fats. Trans fats have no beneficial effect on the body. Not only do they increase the risk of the development of heart disease by increasing LDL cholesterol levels and decreasing HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol) levels, but they also cause free radical damage. The intake of high amounts of trans fats in the diet has also been linked to an increased susceptibility to certain cancers and type 2 diabetes.
Heart Disease (Cardiovascular disease), the most significant health risk in the United States, is the term given to any disorder that affects the heart and blood vessels. Strokes, heart attacks, angina and atherosclerosis thus fall under this prevalent condition.
At one time around the world, the utilization of trans fatty acids was extremely high, since they are so inexpensive to manufacture and have a longer shelf life because of the hydrogenation. As their lack of benefit, and more importantly, their negative effect on the human body became more apparent, restrictions on their presence in packaged foods and even foods served in restaurants started being implemented.
When shopping and reading food labels look out for the words "hydrogenated oils", "partially hydrogenated oils" or "shortening" under the list of ingredients. This means the product contains a certain amount of trans fats.
In their effort to combat Heart Disease, the American Heart Association (AHA), recommends that one's total daily intake of trans fats be less that 1 percent of their total daily calories. So if one eats 2000 calories in a day, they should not consume more than 2 grams of trans fats. This means less than 20 calories of trans fats. Keep in mind that, in the United States, when a food product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving, by law, the amount of trans fats in the product can be listed as "0 grams of trans fats".
Consuming 2 grams of trans fats or less a day will greatly decrease the chances of one developing heart disease, becoming obese and/or developing one of the many other diseases that are increasingly becoming common.
The statements made here are for informational purposes only. They are not to be used in place of information provided by your healthcare professional.