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What Are Trans Fats?

Posted Sep 09 2010 4:26pm

We’ve been conditioned to shudder at those two words. Food manufacturers have shifted (according to demand, as always) their stance in recent years from being on the defensive to virtually shouting from the rooftops, “zero trans fat!”; doctors have been relentless in telling us not to eat foods containing trans fat. It’s been a witch hunt, and a completely valid one at that, but let’s get to know the witch a bit before we light the match…

What is trans fat?

A simple way of identifying trans fat is that it is a type of fat that has been altered through  partial hydrogenation. When food has been partially hydrogenated (think vegetable oil), the naturally liquid fat becomes solid at room temperature (think margarine).

A brief history…

Hydrogenation was brought to North America in the early 1900s. Crisco, an American staple food ingredient, was one of the first products to be mass-marketed that used the partial hydrogenation process; Proctor & Gamble even gave away free cookbooks in which every recipe called for a certain amount of Crisco.

Prior to this introduction of partially hydrogenated fats, society’s typical fat intake consisted of mostly animal fats, such as beef tallow, lard, or butter (remember:   saturated fat is good for you ). By the 1960s, animal fats were being phased out due to lower costs as well as the demonization of saturated fat.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the deadliness of trans fat came to public attention. Now, by 2010, we’re at a point where trans fats still exist in many foods, but are steadily declining in their use (my hope is for an outright ban eventually).

Why is trans fat unhealthy?

Trans fat has no health benefits, and  can cause the following:

  • heart disease
  • comparatively increased fat storage
  • inflammation
  • atherosclerosis

That’s some bad news.

What food contains trans fat?

You can generally find trans fat in the following foods:

  • Most fried foods
  • French fries
  • Baking shortenings
  • Margarine
  • Anything considered “junk food”

Do yourself a favour and eat natural, whole foods — butter instead of margarine, fatty meats instead of french fries or processed junk food. You get the idea!

In a nutshell

Trans fat is the result of processing or partially hydrogenating certain types of fat. It is awful for us, causing heart disease, inflammation, artherosclerosis, and weight gain. You can find it in processed junk food and fried food, including margarine. To avoid it, stick to natural, whole food.
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