Trans fats are not good for us. They can make food both taste better and last longer on the grocery store shelves, but they have many adverse consequences for us. Some trans fats occur naturally while others are “man-made.” Trans fat is made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil (hydrogenated fats). There is some debate as to whether or not natural trans fats such as those that occur in many meats have a different effect than the ones created through chemistry. However, scientific evidence would suggest that all trans fats are harmful. Nutritional authorities recommend that consumption of trans fats be reduced to trace amounts.
It is estimated as of 2006, that 100,000 cardiac deaths per year in the United States were attributable to the consumption of trans fats. A comprehensive review in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that, “On a per-calorie basis, trans fats appear to increase the risk of coronary heart disease more than any other macronutrient, conferring a substantially increased risk at low levels of consumption (1-3 percent of total energy intake).” Replacing just 2 percent of energy from trans fat with non-trans unsaturated fats more than halves the risk of heart disease. Trans fats raise bad cholesterol just like saturated fats, but they also increase inflammation and lower the good cholesterol that protects us against heart disease. Inflammation appears to be the main cause of coronary artery disease — and of cancer, too.
There is less scientific consensus about trans fats increasing the risk of other chronic health problems. However, there are strong associations with Alzheimer’s Disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity (trans fat may increase weight gain more than a similar caloric intake from other sources), liver dysfunction, infertility, and depression as well as other behavior disorders.
Many food manufacturers and fast food chains have removed or reduced trans fats in their offerings. However, their presence persists in many foods. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
French fries are the “poster child” for a trans fat food. Although many restaurant chains have significantly reduced trans fat levels in French fries (Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Jack-in-the-Box and Diary Queen), others have not. For instance, Cajun fries from Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen still contain 3.5 gms of trans fat per serving! Any food that is fried or battered should be assumed to have some, if not a lot, of trans fat.
Pies and pie crust as well as other baked products also contain trans fats. Many restaurant chains (McDonald’s, Burger King) have removed hydrogenated oils from their apple pies, but others in the grocery store (Marie Callender’s frozen fruit pies) have 2-4 gms of trans fats per serving. Pillsbury Frozen Deep Dish all-vegetable pie crust contains 1.8 gms of trans fat per serving.