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What You Need to Know about Trans Fats

Much ado has been made about the dangers of trans fats and why we need to avoid them. But why? Are trans fats really that terrible, or is the media exaggerating the danger?

In this case, the headlines tell the truth. Trans fats are horrible for your health. Despite this fact, trans fats are still used in a wide variety of foods.

Here are some facts you need to know about trans fats so that you can recognize them, avoid them, and protect your health.

They Can Harm Your Heart

Excess consumption of any fatty food can lead to obesity and health problems, but trans fats pose a specific danger: they raise levels of bad cholesterol while lowering levels of good cholesterol.

Trans fats also increase the body's resistance to insulin, and raise triglyceride levels - a particularly dangerous combination for diabetics, but reason enough for anyone to reduce their intake of trans fats.

In fact, the Food & Drug Administration and the American Heart Association recommend reducing your consumption of trans fats to zero. Unfortunately, the average American eats 30 to 40 grams of trans fat each day.

They're in Lots of Foods

Trans fats are ubiquitous. We get most of our intake from margarine, either by eating it directly or by eating products that contain it.

Chocolate, baked goods, French fries, potato chips, and shortening are all sources of trans fats. They can also turn up in salad dressings and breakfast cereals.

Food processors like to use trans fats because they have a very long shelf life compared to natural butter. Trans fats also retain a smooth, pleasing texture for an extended period of time.

While this makes for more attractive candy and baked goods, the cost in human health problems is high indeed.

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They Go by Different Names

Most nutrition labels don't come out and announce that a product contains trans fats. It's important to recognize the many aliases trans fats go by so that you can avoid them.

Trans fats might be listed on labels as shortening, margarine, or partially hydrogenated oil. The hydrogenation process is used to create trans fats, so "partially hydrogenated" is a phrase to watch out for.

Some foods don't list trans fats at all, but you can still figure out how much trans fat that food contains. Simply look at the total fat grams per serving. Then add up the total saturated and unsaturated fat grams per serving. Subtract that number from the total fat grams; the difference is the number of trans fat grams per serving.

They Stay in Your System

One especially horrific fact about trans fats is that they stay in your body far longer than other types of fat. Most fat is used by the body and broken down within 3 to 7 days of consumption.

Trans fats can linger in the human body for more than 50 days! Add to that the aforementioned fact that many people eat 30 to 40 grams of trans fat a day, and you can see why this is such a scary proposition.

They Can Kill You

Trans fats cause plaque to build up in blood vessels. This has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Studies have linked trans fat consumption to type 2 diabetes and obesity.

The American Heart Association estimates that trans fats cause 6,300 heart attacks every year. The FDA suggests that eliminating trans fats entirely would save the health care system $59 billion within the next 20 years.

Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy foods that don't contain trans fats. Choose olive oil or canola oil for your cooking needs, and look for margarines that contain 0 trans fats.

Eat as many whole, natural foods as possible, and do your own baking as often as you can. When you do purchase processed foods, pay careful attention to the labels. Say no to trans fats, and your body will reward you with better health.

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