90 Fitness Answers 07 – What Is “Trans Fat”?

90 fitness answers 07 - what is trans fat?Yesterday we talked about whether dietary fat is good for you or not, whether it’s been improperly vilified or glorified by public opinion, and the other ins and outs of the story.

Today, we’re going to talk about a specific type of fat that’s popular in the media, but most people don’t really have a handle on what it is: Trans Fat.

For the purpose of our discussion, a trans fat is basically a “manufactured” or industrially-altered fat. Basically, Hydrogen is added to some of the bonds and this “hydrogenation” helps the fats last longer before going rancid, be solid at room temperatures, but also melt easier under other conditions. Trans fats DO occur in nature, but only in small amounts. For example, CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) is a fat that occurs naturally in dairy in small amounts, and can be healthy. By and large, though, trans fats are considered to be tremendously unhealthy and it’s recommended that they make up less that 1% of a person’s diet by the World Health Organization. Trans fats are associated with a large variety of health issues (heart/cardiovascular system, digestion, obesity, depression, fertility issues in women, diabetes).

Ok, so they’re not great for you. Where are they?

Remember how back in the day margarine was sold as a healthy alternative to butter? As Lee Corso would say: “Not so fast, my friend“. You can find trans fats all over the place. Basically anything fried at a restaurant, a commercial baked good, margarine, anything that uses shortening (“partially-hydrogenated XXXX” is a trans fat) and many of your other favorite foods… even some labeled as “health foods”.

Ok, so what can you do to avoid them?

First of all, unless you want to be very diligent, you’re probably not going to avoid them all. So don’t beat yourself to death. However, minimizing is the best approach. Stick with as much non-processed, natural foods as possible. Use natural olive oil dressings as opposed to bottled, soybean oil-based dressings. Try to cook food at a low (safe) temperature, as a lot of heat can damage fats and trans fats are often used in high-heat cooking. Avoid anything that says “hydrogenated” and avoid frying foods.

Basically, if a food has fat in it and it can stick around for a really long time without going rancid… That’s not natural.

Looking for some good options when you DO go out to eat? You probably won’t avoid all trans fat, but you’ll definitely knock it down if you use our Relentless Restaurant Guide.

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