The dangers of trans fats have been reported often in recent years, and many restaurants and brands are attempting to eliminate them, with legitimate reasons.
Man-made and added to foods to prevent them from spoiling on shelves, trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated oils, have received negative attention lately. In fact, according to work published in the December 2006 edition of National Provisioner, major U.S. cities, including New York City and Chicago, have limited the use of trans fats in local restaurants, with fast food chains across the nation having followed suit.
With such apparent efforts being made to limit consumption of trans fats, one may wonder whether they are actually as harmful as the media suggests. The answer, in a nutshell: yes.
Cardiovascular Dangers of Trans Fats
Much like saturated fats, trans fats have a negative impact on cardiovascular health, as they also raise levels of unhealthy LDL cholesterol. Augmenting the situation, trans fats additionally lower levels of healthy HDL cholesterol, according to a 2013 publication of the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter.
Lowered levels of HDL cholesterol are especially detrimental, as this healthy form of cholesterol actually lowers a patient’s risk of coronary heart disease. A 2009 report published in the American Journal of Managed Care cited studies which found that for every 1 mg/dL increase in blood levels of HDL cholesterol, a man’s risk of heart disease decreased by 2 percent, with 3 percent decreases seen in women. The decreased risk of cardiovascular disease associated with HDL cholesterol likely stems from its anti-inflammatory properties, as well as its ability to prevent cholesterol from flowing into the blood, according to the report.
That being said, trans fats, in essence, pose two major cardiovascular risks: an increase in artery-clogging LDL cholesterol levels, coupled with a decrease in the HDL cholesterols that can fight against plaque build-up. Because of this, those who derive just 2 percent of their daily energy from trans fat are 14 to 36 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, according to research published in American Family Physician in 2009.
Trans Fats’ Association with Diabetes
Recent studies indicate that trans fat may also play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. In a 2001 study conducted by Salmeron et al., researchers found that women who eliminated trans fat from their diets, replacing it with polyunsaturated fats, decreased their risk of type 2 diabetes by 40 percent.
In obese women, a mere 2 percent increase in trans fat consumption was associated with an augmented risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Foods Containing Trans Fats
According to a 2016 edition of the Westchester County Business Journal, the following foods are the top culprits when it comes to trans fat levels: baked goods, frozen foods, and packaged foods. These items tend to be highly processed and contain trans fats to increase their shelf lives.
Spreads, such as butter and margarine, contain trans fats, as well as saturated fats, which also contribute to heart disease. According to a 2008 study published in Food & Nutrition Research, meats also contain small amounts of trans fatty acids, but the levels are much lower than those found in processed foods.
Fortunately, trans fat levels are now listed on nutrition facts labels. Consumers would be wise to examine the labels before purchasing a food product, avoiding anything containing trans fat, as it is obviously damaging to health.