We all know that there are certain kinds of dietary fat that should be avoided at all cost. Of special distinction, however, are hydrogenated oils, also known as trans fatty acids. These kinds of fats have undergone a chemical process that artificially transforms them from their normal liquid state (at room temperature) into the solid, saturated variety. This means that they’re actually stiffer and denser in your blood stream. Trans fats also raise LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), just like regular saturated fat, but they also manage to lower HDL (the good kind). So if you’re looking to broaden your chances for arteriosclerosis (among other things), trans fats are an excellent choice.
Why do trans fats even exist if they’re so bad? Because processed foods manufacturers love ‘em. They keep cookies moist, crackers crispy, cakes tender and help icing stick to donuts, all while proving to be extremely stable in the ultra-hot arena of deep frying. Trans fats also dramatically extend the shelf life of their products. Unfortunately, they seem to have the opposite effect on the “shelf life” of those who consume them!
In an extensive report from the Harvard School of Public Health, epidemiologic evidence suggests that nearly 100,000 premature deaths could be abated, merely by replacing trans fats with non-hydrogenated vegetable oil. The study also went on to state that “a two percent increase in energy intake from trans fatty acids was associated with a 23 percent increase in the incidence of coronary heart disease….” In fact, New York City recently banned the use of trans fats in restaurants, since these oils are so dangerous and restaurant patrons aren’t usually privy to which kind of oils are used. Starbucks has also followed suit with their line of pastries, and I suspect that we will see this as an ongoing trend with a number of other chains.
Simply put, trans fats are the worst form of unhealthy fats and every attempt should be made to avoid them. Conservative suggestions put the total recommended amount of trans fats at around two grams per day for a 2000 calorie diet. Many foods have more than that in just one serving. For example, one single donut is usually worth three grams, certain buttered microwave popcorns are worth five, while your average fast food order of large fries will get you between seven and eight.
So I say, if you see ANY amount of trans fats on the label of something – do your arteries a favor and run the other way!