Trans fats in the headlines (again)

November 8, 2013 Edited by  
Filed under Consumer awareness, Fat

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about two different types of fats: “good” essential fats and “bad” trans fats. To be clear, I really don’t like using the terms “good” or “bad” when it comes to food because it’s rarely so black and white (see my first post It Depends). In this case, however, I’ll go out on a limb and call trans fats horrible! Apparently the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agrees: “Condemning artificial trans fats as a threat to public health, the FDA announced Thursday it will require the food industry to phase them out” (Associated Press, 2013).

Trans fats are a health threat for at least three specific reasons. First, they raise “bad” LDL cholesterol levels (similar to saturated fats and dietary cholesterol). Second, trans fats lower “good” HDL cholesterol levels (which help clear LDL cholesterol from your arteries). Third, trans fats are associated with increased cellular inflammation (which contributes to high blood pressure among other things). Together these factors – high LDL, low HDL, inflammation – significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes.

Where do trans fats come from?

Artificial trans fats are created via a process called hydrogenation, when hydrogen is added to liquid oils under high pressures and/or temperatures. Hydrogenation partially solidifies the oils, alters their mouthfeel, and increases their shelf life. Common food sources of trans fats include vegetable shortening, margarine, cookies, crackers, French fries, and other foods made with partially hydrogenated oils.

In 2006 the FDA began requiring manufacturers to list trans fats on food labels alongside saturated fats and dietary cholesterol. Trans fat intake subsequently declined among Americans from an average 4.6 grams per day in 2006 to about one gram a day in 2012 (Tavernise, 2013). That’s good news, but any amount of trans fats is too much and they can still be found in many processed foods like microwave popcorn, packaged baked goods, frozen pizzas, and coffee creamers.

Food for thought

From a health perspective, how many grams of trans fats do you consume each day? What types of foods could you substitute in place of trans fats? From a philosophical perspective, do you think the government should intervene in public health matters like this? Or should the choice to consume trans fats be left to consumers?


Associated Press (2013). “No More Trans Fat: FDA Banning the Artery-Clogger.” ABC News online. November 7. Accessed November 8, 2013.

Tavernise, Sabrina (2013). “F.D.A. Ruling Would All but Eliminate Trans Fats.” New York Times online. November 7. Accessed November 7, 2013.

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