If you haven’t cut out trans fats yet, it’s time to take the leap. There’s a good reason why major grocery store chains … top food production companies … and the government are all working to remove trans fats from the food supply. According to a study conducted by a team of researchers from Yale University, simply banning trans fats can reduce the number of hospitalizations due to heart attacks and strokes by over 6%!
Read on to find out just how dangerous trans fats are, even in tiny quantities, then use our handy guide at the end of this article to keep them out of your grocery cart!
Do Bans on Trans Fats Improve Public Health?
Dr. Eric Brandt and a group of colleagues from the Yale University School of Medicine set out to determine what effect—if any—laws banning trans fat had on the health and wellbeing of individuals living in areas where they had been passed. New York City restricted the use of
trans fats in July of 2007, and shortly thereafter, several other cities and counties in the state followed suit. When Brandt and his co-investigators compared areas with trans fat bans in places to those without them, they found a 6.2% decrease in hospital admissions for myocardial infarction (heart attacks) and stroke.
In their report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Cardiology, they also listed the negative effects associated with the consumption of trans fats, which include…
- Lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol
- Higher levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol
- Elevated triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood)
- Chronic inflammation
- Endothelial cell dysfunction (compromised blood vessel function)
To summarize, eating trans fats clogs your arteries and inflames your blood vessels. Even a small amount—as little as 2 grams of trans fats—can increase your risk of stroke … heart disease … and sudden heart death.
How to Avoid Trans Fats
Now that you understand just how dangerous trans fats can be, you may be wondering what exactly they are, and how you can avoid them. There are two kinds of trans fats:
- Naturally occurring trans fats
- Artificial trans fats
Manufacturers use a process called hydrogenation to transform liquid oils into solids (which stay fresh longer). This same process occurs in nature—bacteria in the stomachs of grass-eating, ruminant animals hydrogenate the oils in animal feed, resulting in natural trans fats. When we eat meat and dairy products, we ingest these trans fats. It appears that natural trans fats are less harmful that the artificial kind, unfortunately, most of the trans fats an average person consumes are artificial.
In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that trans fats can no longer be “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS. They gave manufacturers three years to phase them out, after which point, they must petition the FDA if they wish to continue using them. There’s no reason to wait until the ruling goes into full effect, however. You can eliminate trans fats from your diet today!
To help you get started, we’re sharing five foods you might not realize contain trans fats, originally compiled by Kristin Kilpatrick, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian and wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.
- Crackers: Although many cracker boxes may list 0 grams of trans fats on the label, this is misleading. If a food contains under 0.5 grams per serving, manufactures can list that amount as zero on the label. A good rule of thumb is that if an item can last for weeks in your pantry without tasting stale, it likely contains trans fats.
- Cakes, cookies, and pie mixes: Just as with crackers, cake and cookie mixes often benefit from “under 0.5 grams per serving” loophole. If you eat multiple servings (and honestly, how often do you eat just one cookie?), those “insignificant” quantities of trans fat add up quickly!
- Frozen biscuits: These quick and easy baked goods can contain more than 3.5 grams of trans fats! Any premade foods described as “flaky” will likely be loaded with trans fats, since they help to produce that texture.
- Microwave popcorn: Popcorn itself is a healthy snack, but added flavoring can contain up to 5 grams of trans fats per serving!
- Frozen pizza: These last-minute dinner standbys can contain an average of 1 gram per slice! Look for an organic option, and make sure to read the ingredients list.
As this list helps demonstrate, trans fats can be lurking in all kinds of foods. Given the serious impact trans fats have on your heart healthy, it’s worth the extra time it takes to look over ingredient list. When you do, keep an eye out for “partially hydrogenated oils”—that’s just another way to say trans fats.