Trans Fats – what do I need to know?

I’m always being asked about fats…….”which fats are good” or “which fats are bad”. While it is clear that we all need to include some fat in our diets to remain healthy, not all fats are equal.

What are trans fats?

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Trans fats are the baddies, the grizzly little gremlins of the food world. They are:

  • Artificially produced as an ingredient for biscuits, pies, cakes and fried food
  • Produced when vegetable fats are subjected to a very high temperature e.g. takeaway foods
  • Naturally occurring in small amounts in dairy e.g. cheese and cream

Health concerns about these fats has recently led to many UK manufacturers reducing the amounts of trans fats in foods. In 2006 United Biscuits, who produce McVities, KP and Jacobs ranges, removed trans fats from their products. Marks & Spencer, as well as many other supermarket chains, also banned the use of trans fats in own brand products.

Why are trans fats bad for me?

Trans fats raise levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and reduce the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. Trans fats also increase levels of another form of blood fat called triglycerides. All of these effects of trans fats can raise your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

Trans fats appear to increase risk of CHD more than saturated fats, and so are potentially worse for our health.

How do I know if a food is high in trans fats?

ConfusedYou need to check ingredients lists for partially hydrogenated fats.

A ‘hydrogenated fat’ does not contain trans fat, only ‘partially hydrogenated fats’ contain trans fats. If a food product contains partially hydrogenated fats or oils, it will almost certainly contain trans fats too, and the higher up the list the fat or oil appears, the more trans fats the product is likely to contain.

Many manufacturers now avoid using hydrogenated fats or have reduced the amount of trans fats in their products to very low levels.

 Unfortunately for takeaway food in can be harder to tell as nutrition labelling may not exist. Big takeaway companies like McDonalds have removed artificial trans fats from their menus, however, small takeaway outlets may still use trans fats for cooking.

Take home message……

The good news is that in the UK intakes of trans fats are on average lower than the guidelines. In the last 20 years, levels of trans fat in food have reduced considerably.

However as part of a healthy diet, you should aim to keep the amount of trans fats to a minimum. In general trans fats may be found in takeaways, cakes, biscuits, hard margarines, pastry, pies and fried foods, all of which are the types of foods to limit when choosing a healthy, balanced diet.

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