Trans fats have been in the news a lot recently. Have you retained the important facts? Refresh your knowledge with our trans fat FAQ. We've thrown in some bonus questions on cholesterol as well.
- What are trans fats?
Trans fats, sometimes referred to as trans fatty acids, are formed when vegetable and other liquid oils are processed by food manufacturers and made solid or into a more solid liquid (think of hard margarines or shortening). While the majority of trans fats appear in processed food, trans fats may also appear naturally in low quantities in some dairy and meat products.
- What is hydrogenation?
Hydrogenation is the process by which liquid oils are made more solid. In more scientific terms, hydrogenation is the process by which unsaturated fat is processed to become more saturated – this helps to increase the shelf life of processed foods, but it can be detrimental to your health. Unsaturated fats are thought to decrease cholesterol levels in your blood and are found at high levels in vegetable oils (olive oil, canola, etc.) As a general rule, at room temperature, unsaturated fats are liquid. So what's wrong with saturated fat? Saturated fat poses the highest risk for the development of atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries) and ensuing cardiovascular problems.
- What foods contain trans fats?
As mentioned in answer #1, trans fats appear primarily in processed foods. These foods include commercially baked goods (e.g., crackers, cookies, cakes), fried foods (e.g., chips, french fries), hard margarines, and shortening. And be aware of fried foods in restaurants because these often contain added trans fats (as restaurants often use margarines and shortenings to prepare food). Naturally occurring trans fats appear in some meats (beef or lamb) and dairy products.
- How can I find out how much trans fat is in foods?
To find out how much trans fat is in the food you're eating, check the nutrition facts tables. Canadian food manufacturers are required to list the trans fat content on the labels of most pre-packaged foods. Look at the nutrition facts table under "fat" and you will see a listing for "trans fats." This listing will tell you how much trans fat each serving contains.
- What are the health reasons for avoiding trans fats?
Consuming large amounts of trans fats increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. With the widespread appearance of trans fats (and other fats) in our diet, the average North American currently eats approximately 5 times the recommended daily allowance of bad dietary fats, including trans fats.
- Why do trans fats appear so commonly in food?
Food manufacturers use hydrogenated oils to add shelf life to their products (think of packaged cookies and crackers which last a long time) and often add a "better" texture to the food (such as flakier pie shells, or a more spreadable dip or topping). By the end of 2018, addition of partially hydrogenated oils to foods will be banned in Canada.
- How can I avoid trans fats?
Inform yourself! Remember that processed and fried foods should be avoided. Use liquid (not solid) oils to cook foods at home (such as olive, canola, or corn oils). And as always, choose fresh, low-fat food for your meals.
- What are the 2 types of cholesterol?
There are 2 types of cholesterol found in your blood. The "bad" cholesterol is called low density lipoprotein (LDL). While certain levels of LDL are required for cell production and cell repair, too much LDL can spell trouble in the form of cardiovascular disease. The other type of cholesterol is the "good" cholesterol – high density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL helps remove extra LDL from our blood vessels and can help protect against hardening of the arteries.
- What is the interplay of trans fats with cholesterol?
Studies show that trans fats contribute to increases of blood LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol). In addition, some studies also show that trans fats may decrease the levels of "good" cholesterol – HDL cholesterol
- Why should I be concerned about high blood cholesterol?
As mentioned in answer #8, high levels of blood cholesterol (LDL) present an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
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