The truth about ‘trans fats’

First and foremost, it must be stated – fat is an important part of a healthy diet. The trouble is that not all fats are equally healthy! ‘Trans’ fats have recently been highlighted as an unhealthy type of fat, but many people are unaware of what foods contain this type of fat, and how best to avoid it.

So, what are trans fats?

The correct name for trans fats is ‘trans fatty acids’. Small amounts occur naturally in dairy products, beef, and lamb products. Trans fats can be formed artificially when liquid vegetable oils are hydrogenated, meaning they are forced to harden.

What’s the difference between trans and saturated fats?

Saturated fat, simply put, is animal fat, eg fat on meat, butter, cheese, cream. When eaten, this type of fat can cause bad (LDL ) cholesterol to be raised in the body.

What foods will I find trans fats in?

Baked goods such as biscuits, pies, and cakes, and fried foods.

Fat spreads and margarines which have ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil’ listed as an ingredient

Food manufacturers started putting trans fats in products because they allow for a longer shelf life. Crackers, for example, can stay on the shelf and stay crispy for years partly because of the hydrogenated fats in them.

Why should I watch out for trans fats?

Trans fats, like saturated fats, pose a high risk of heart disease. While saturated fats can raise blood cholesterol levels, particularly ‘bad’ (LDL ) cholesterol, trans fats go a step further. They can lower the ‘good’ (HDL ) cholesterol (which helps protect against heart disease ), and raise another type of fat found in our blood called triglycerides. All of these effects of trans fats can increase your risk of heart disease.

Tips to help lower your trans fats intake:

Use a small amount of liquid vegetable oil eg rapeseed, olive, or sunflower, when cooking rather than a solid fat such as butter or margarine.

Choose an oil-based spread/ margarine instead of butter/ hard margarine.

Limit intake of cakes/ biscuits/ pastries/ pies, processed and fried foods.

Learn to identify foods which are high in saturated and trans fats.

Choose naturally low fat foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grain breads and cereals more often as these foods can also help to lower overall risk of heart disease.

By Pauline Dunne, senior community dietitian, HSE Dublin Mid-Leinster. For more information on diet and nutrition, please contact Maria at the Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE Dublin-Mid Leinster at (044 ) 9353220 or email [email protected].

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