Saturated fat vs trans fat – what’s the big deal? To understand you need to know what these fats are and their health effects.
Saturated fat vs trans fat
Trans fat definition. – What is trans fat? Trans fat is the common name for unsaturated fat with trans-isomer (E-isomer) fatty acid(s). Trans fats can be mono or poly unsaturated, but never saturated. Trans fats exist in nature, but the trans fats in this post are those made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil via hydrogenation. Hydrogenation is used to turn liquid oils into a solid for products like margarine and shortening. Doctors don’t know why, but adding hydrogen to oil increases cholesterol levels more than other types of fats. Natural trans fat are mostly good fats. But trans fats made by hydrogenation behave have the same effect as saturated fats and cause the same health issues, namely higher blood cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in our blood. Our body needs it but having too much makes us more likely to suffer heart disease. When you have high cholesterol, you may get fatty plaque deposits in your blood vessels (called Atherosclerosis). These build up over time until it becomes hard for blood to flow. Your heart may not get as much oxygen rich blood as it needs and this may cause a heart attack. If this happens in your brain it can cause a stroke.
What is saturated fat? – Saturated fats are mainly animal fats from meat, milk, milk products and eggs. There are also a couple of plant sources, namely coconut and some nuts (eg. cashews). But it’s animal fats that are bad for us because plant sources don’t contain cholesterol. Cholesterol is unique to animal fat.
When it comes to heart health, Saturated fats increase LDL levels, but trans fat is double trouble because it:
- Raises your “bad” (LDL – Low Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol
- Lowers your “good” (HDL – High Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol.
Another crucial thing to know in the saturated fat vs trans fat question are the roles of LDL and HDL. LDL deposits fatty plaque on artery walls which can lead to a fatal blockage. HDL attracts cholesterol to it and transports it to the liver to be disposed of. In this way, HDL lowers the levels of cholesterol in your blood. Good ways to increase HDL levels are exercise and having plenty of omega 3 from fish, nuts, avocado, flax seeds, chia seeds etc
As you can see, if your HDL levels are low you will have a higher LDL levels which increases your risk of heart disease. This is what makes the saturated fat vs trans fat issue so important. Also, trans fats have been linked to cancer.
Many countries list trans fat content on nutrition labels so always be sure to check. Be careful though, in the U.S. and some other countries if food has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serve, the food label can read 0 grams trans fat. You might think that’s a small amount of trans fat, but if you eat more than one serve of foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat, you will consume too much.
The fact is… NO amount of trans fat is healthy. According to a Wake Forest Uni study, trans fat also causes higher levels of abdominal fat.
How do you know whether food contains trans fat? If it says “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oil. That means trans fat. Trans fats are in many foods, such as crackers, cookies, cakes, fried foods like doughnuts and french fries. Shortenings and some margarines can be high in trans fat.
‘Saturated fat vs trans fat’ is part of our food additives to avoid series.