What are trans fats?

Though delicious, french fries often have trans fatty acids, making them quite bad for heart health.

If you compared our bodies to machines, they would be some of the most complex, with very intricate processes that need careful maintenance and proper fuel. In our well-oiled machine-bodies, trans fats are the substances that will gunk up the system – invading our arteries and affecting our hearts. Here's what you need to know about these unhealthy fatty acids that are terrible for us:

What are trans fats?
Trans fatty acids don't occur naturally, except for very small amounts in meat and dairy products from grazing animals. In fact, trans facts are manufactured through a process called hydrogenation, in which hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it less likely to go bad. Manufacturers of processed foods often use trans fats because they are inexpensive, keep oils solid at room temperature and give foods longer shelf lives.

So, what's the problem?
Until the 1990s, little research was done on trans fats. Today, we know that they are bad for the heart because they raise your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower the good cholesterol (HDL) – something that contributes to heart disease and stroke. Trans fats have also been linked with certain cancers. Researchers still aren't sure why trans fatty acids are so bad for people, but they think it is because hydrogen makes the oil difficult to digest and our bodies recognize it as saturated fat.

Where will you find them?
On the ingredients list of various manufactured food items, trans fats are also likely to be called "partially hydrogenated oils." These are often found in the followingtems:

  • Fried foods
  • Commercial baked goods (cookies, donuts, crackers, cakes, etc.)
  • Fast food
  • Canned soup and instant noodles
  • Cake mixes
  • Frozen foods (pot pies, waffles, pizza, fish sticks, etc.)

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