Trans fat is a type of unsaturated fat that occurs naturally in meat and milk fat. However, unlike poly- and monounsaturated fats, where people are recommended to consume the majority of their fat from, trans fats have been shown to be detrimental to health. Consuming trans fats can increase levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol and lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, known as “good” cholesterol. Trans fats have also been shown to promote inflammation that can lead to heart disease, stroke, and other chronic conditions.
There are two different sources of trans fat; naturally forming trans fat and artificial trans fat. Effects on human health differ depending on the form of trans fat. Naturally forming trans fat is produced in the gastrointestinal tract in grazing animals such as cattle, goats and sheep, from which meat and dairy products are then made for human consumption. There have not been sufficient studies to determine if naturally forming trans fat harm human health. Trans fat that have been artificially formed in food processing are the type of trans fat that has been shown to be harmful to human health. In order to create this trans fat, manufacturers use a process called “partial hydrogenation.” Partial hydrogenation is when hydrogens are added to liquid vegetable oils to make it more solid, which in turn creates a product that is less likely to spoil (and taste good).
History of Trans Fat
Trans fat are not a recent discovery. In fact, the first artificially made trans fat can be traced back to the late 19 th century. Once scientist learned that trans fat was not only inexpensive and easy to produce, it became a large staple for processed foods. By the early 1990’s, Americans were consuming 2-3% of their total calories in trans fat. During that time as well, researchers were conducting and publishing studies about the negative effects of trans fat on human health, which drew the public’s attention and call for change. Unfortunately, it would take over a decade for that change. In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that “partially hydrogenated” trans fats (also known as “partially hydrogenated oils”, or PHO) were no longer “generally recognized as safe.” As of June 18 th 2018 manufacturers cannot add partially hydrogenated oils to their foods. However, manufacturers that had PHO in their foods before June 18 th 2018, have a transition time, and must cease to use PHO by January 1, 2020 and in some cases 2021. That means, trans fats can still be lurking in foods.
Where to Find Trans Fats
Simply reading the trans fats portion of the Nutrition Facts Label can be misleading when it comes to figuring out if there is trans fats in a product. If there is 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, a manufacturer can label the trans fats as 0 grams on the nutrition facts labels. To determine if there is trans fats present in a product, you need to read the ingredients list and look for the words: “partially hydrogenated oils.” That means a trans fat is present. The picture is an example of a trans fat listed as 0 grams but being present in a product ingredients. Potential foods that contain trans fats are baked good, frozen pizza dough and pie crust, vegetable shortenings, and coffee creamers.