Food Facts: Trans Fat

Trans fat is the “Joker” of the nutrition world. Dietitians and other health care professionals frequently tell us to limit our intake of trans fat. You may be wondering: what is this fat, what foods contain it, and why is it so unhealthy?

A trans fat is a fat that is made by chemically changing the structure of a normal fat. During this process, a liquid oil, such as cottonseed oil, changes in structure to result in the formation of a partially hydrogenated oil. Food processing companies use these oils because they are incredibly inexpensive and allow foods to have longer shelf lives.

Unfortunately, many desserts, fried foods, and snack foods contain this unhealthy fat. Specific foods that you might consume that have trans fat include: premade cookies, cake icing, french fries, frozen biscuits, margarine, and vegetable shortening. Luckily for consumers, all store bought foods must have trans fat on the nutrition label if the serving size exceeds 0.49 grams. Therefore, it is important to read the label to be sure that your foods are trans fat free. While the nutrition facts may state that a food contains zero grams of trans fat, you should consult the list of ingredients to be certain that it is indeed trans fat free by not containing trace amounts of partially hydrogenated oils.

As the leading promoter of heart disease, the consequences of the overconsumption of trans fat is great. Numerous studies have found that trans fat raises blood cholesterol levels by increasing bad cholesterol and decreasing good cholesterol. Some research further suggests that trans fat can also contribute to obesity, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes, although this is not certain. To avoid these potentially unwanted side effects, trans fat should not make up more than one percent of the total amount of calories you consume each day; therefore, if you consume 2000 calories daily, you should eat less than 2 grams of trans fat per day.

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American Heart Association

Harvard School of Public Health

U.S. Food and Drug Administration


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