Banner Health Services  

Why are trans fats bad?


Jacklyn Diefenbach is a registered dietitian for 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.  In fact, 30 percent of your total calories per day should come from fat. 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, such as sunflower oil, safflower oil, and corn oil. Heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids also are included in this category. Good sources of these omega-3s include salmon, albacore tuna, and flaxseed products. 
  • Monounsaturated fatty acid—an unsaturated fat such as olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, almonds, and avocados.
  • Saturated fatty acid — a type of fat found in meat, poultry with skin, whole-milk dairy products and lard. Saturated fats have been associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, and can raise blood cholesterol levels more than actual “cholesterol” in foods. Saturated fat intake should be less than 7 percent of your total calories per day.

Trans fatty acid—a fatty acid that has been produced by hydrogenating a liquid oil to make it more solid. 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.  In order to increase the stability of the oil so it can withstand higher cooking temperatures. Research has shown that trans fats have the potential to raise your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, while decreasing HDL, or “good” cholesterol.  Less than 1 percent of your total calories should come from trans fats. Look on the food label ingredients for “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils.

Choosing fresh, raw, minimally processed foods will help you avoid trans fats.  Read the ingredient list on the nutrition label.  If there are more than five to seven ingredients and the name of the ingredients sound scientific or unpronounceable, it’s a good chance the food is processed and should be avoided.  The fewer the ingredients listed on the label the better!


Page Last Modified: 05/02/2012
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