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Trans fats.

You may have seen this term on the news, while surfing the web, or perhaps even on food packaging. Given the current rates of obesity and heart disease plaguing the United States, health professionals are zeroing in on the dangers of trans fats. What are these substances, you may be wondering, and why are they such a topic of controversy? Read on to find out.

Trans fats come in two broad categories: natural and artificial. Natural trans fats stem from the bodies of some animals and the foods that are produced from them, such as meat and dairy. Artificial trans fats, on the other hand, are chemically produced by adding hydrogen to solidify vegetable oils in certain foods. Labeled partially hydrogenated oil on ingredient lists, artificial trans fats are common in the processed food industry because they provide a longer shelf life as well as improve taste and texture. Fast food restaurants also use these oils in their fryers because they last longer than other kinds of oils.

Trans fat content is now listed on food packaging labels.

Image Source: Scott Olson

However, the use of artificial trans fats is not healthy. The American Heart Association warns that the health risks of artificial trans fats consumption include a higher risk of heart disease, strokes, and type 2 diabetes. In addition, artificial trans fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Natural trans fats are not currently believed to have the same adverse effects as their artificial counterparts.

Trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated oils are worrisome because they are found in such a wide variety of foods. Baked goods, including cakes, pie crusts, and cookies, are particularly notorious, as are fried foods like french fries, fried chicken, and doughnuts. Other less obvious sources of artificial trans fats include tortilla chips, microwave popcorn, canned biscuits, frozen pizza crusts, and stick margarine. It is important to note that food labels can read zero grams of trans fat as long as they contain less than 0.5 grams of the substance. In order to avoid trans fats altogether as recommended, try to eliminate foods containing any kind of partially hydrogenated oil in their ingredients.

Based on the multiple health risks of consuming artificial trans fats, it’s no wonder that health experts are pushing for a major change in the processed food industry. Although it may prove difficult to avoid trans fats completely, especially when eating out, opting for foods without partially hydrogenated oils would be a wise and healthy decision for everyone.

Featured Image Source: Fries by Quinn Dombrowski

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