Banner Health Services  

Trans fats: good or bad?

 

Brianne Holmes is a registered dietitian at Banner Estrella Medical Center.

Question: I’m so confused about all the different claims on the food labels. The new claim is “No trans fatty acids.” What does that mean, and why is it so important to buy products with no trans fats?

Answer: It’s always important to consider the amount of fat in a product when you are food shopping.  It is important to consume some fat every day. Fat helps the transport of fat-soluble vitamins and helps maintain the integrity of cells within the body.  However, it is important to know the types of fats that are in the foods you consume. In general, unsaturated fats, such as mono- and polyunsaturated fats, are considered “good fats,” while saturated fats and trans fats fit into the “bad fats” category. Following is a brief description of different types of fatty acids:

  • Polyunsaturated fatty acid - an unsaturated fat found in foods from plant-derived sources, such as sunflower oil, safflower oil, and corn oil. The heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids are also included in this category; good sources of these omega-3s include salmon, albacore tuna, and flaxseed products. 
  • Monounsaturated fatty acid - an unsaturated fat found in plant-derived food sources such as olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, almonds, and avocados.
  • Saturated fatty acid - a type of fat found in foods from animal sources, such as cuts of meat, poultry with skin, whole-milk dairy products and lard. Also found in less amounts in some vegetable oils, including coconut and palm kernel oils. Saturated fats have been associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, and these types of fats can raise blood cholesterol levels more than actual “cholesterol” in foods.
  • Trans fatty acid - a fatty acid that has been produced by hydrogenating a liquid oil to make it more solid in order to increase the stability of the oil so it can withstand higher cooking temperatures. This process is also used to help extend the shelf-life of some foods.  One example of this process, called “hydrogenation,” occurs when vegetable oil is processed into margarine or shortening – this produces trans fats.

Trans fatty acids are found in foods such as cookies, baked goods, crackers, potato chips, energy bars, french fries, and other fried foods, to name a few. Research has shown that trans fats have the potential to raise your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, while decreasing HDL, or “good” cholesterol.  If a food contains any trans fats within the first five ingredients on a food label (found on food label ingredient list as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils, i.e. partially hydrogenated soybean oil), that particular food must disclose on the food label itself under the “total fat” section that that food does contain trans fats.

Page Last Modified: 02/22/2010
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