Trans Fats: The Science and the Risks
This man-made fat was developed to protect us against butter. Turns out, it acts like butter inside our bodies.
What exactly are trans fats? How are they made? How bad are they,
really? And just how solid is the science that the FDA consulted when
they voted to list trans fats on nutrition labels? To get to the bottom of
these and other questions about trans fats, WebMD spoke to leading
What Exactly Are Trans Fats?
Trans fatty acids or trans fats are formed when manufacturers
turn liquid oils into solid fats. Think shortening and hard margarine.
Manufacturers create trans fats via a process called hydrogenation. Hydro-what?
In a nutshell, hydrogenation is a process by which vegetable oils are converted
to solid fats simply by adding hydrogen atoms.
Why hydrogenate? Hydrogenation increases
the shelf life and flavor stability of foods. Indeed, trans fats can be found
in a laundry list of foods including vegetable shortening, margarine, crackers
(even healthy sounding ones like Nabisco Wheat Thins), cereals, candies, baked
goods, cookies, granola bars, chips, snack foods, salad dressings, fats, fried
foods, and many other processed foods.
Trans fatty acids are found naturally in
small quantities in some foods including beef, pork, lamb, butter, and milk,
but most trans fatty acids in the diet come from hydrogenated foods. So there
is good news: When the new nutrition labels go into effect Jan. 1, 2006, it
will be easier to screen these fats out of your diet. Until then, look at the
package's list of ingredients. Products that contain partially hydrogenated
oils or vegetable shortening may contain trans fats.