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Trans fats: are they harmful?

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 443 views

Trans fats make food spreadable and last longer. However, they are bad for your health. Here you can find out why this is the case, what exactly is behind trans fats and where they are contained.

What are trans fats?

Trans fats are more correctly called trans fats. Chemically, trans fats are unsaturated fatty acids that have a double bond between two carbon atoms.

They are formed during the chemical hardening of fats. In this case, curing means that additional hydrogens are attached. This changes the chemical properties of the fats, they become more spreadable (“harder”) and make some products creamier – such as margarine.

The industry also likes to use trans fats because they are cheap to produce and have a long shelf life. However, caution is advised: Man-made trans fats are bad for heart health. Therefore, you should only consume as little of it as possible.

However, trans fats also occur naturally in milk and milk products such as butter . They are made in the rumen, which is part of the stomach of ruminants. However, in small amounts and with different properties than those of chemically produced trans fats.

What foods contain trans fats?

Trans fats are often hidden in high-fat foods such as chips, French fries or fast food. However, due to improved manufacturing processes, the content of trans fats in industrially processed products has decreased more and more in recent years.

Even the once discredited margarine now contains smaller amounts of trans-fatty acids. Above all, non-hardened margarines with a high proportion of cold-pressed vegetable oils are harmless.

Here is a list of foods that contain trans fats:

  • fried potato products such as chips, french fries
  • Fast Food
  • Baked goods like croissants
  • Nut nougat cream
  • certain margarines and spreads

How do you recognize trans fats?

Identifying trans fats in foods is not easy. In Germany there is no labeling requirement for trans fats. However, some manufacturers list them voluntarily. Key words in this context are, for example, “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” fats.

Are trans fats healthy?

Industrially produced trans fats are bad for heart health. Eat less than 1 percent of your total energy from trans fats, but there is no health risk. However, if the average daily intake is significantly higher, the risk of cardiovascular disease increases by a factor of 2.5 to 10.

Specifically, this means that a woman with a daily energy requirement of 1,800 kilocalories (kcal) should not get more than 18 calories from trans fats. That equates to about two grams. Women actually take in about 1.9 grams of trans fats daily on average, men 2.3 grams.

Risk of cardiovascular disease increases

However, if you frequently consume chips and fast food, your daily intake is higher and with it the risk of cardiovascular disease.

In addition, the concentration of “bad” LDL cholesterol increases, while that of “good” HDL cholesterol decreases: another risk factor for heart health. Additionally, studies have found that trans fats are even linked to depression.

Natural trans fats found in milk appear to be healthy

The naturally occurring trans fatty acid found in milk is called conjugated linoleic acid. This is of great scientific interest, as animal experiments have shown many positive health effects. In addition, conjugated fatty acids are rarely found in dietary fats.

Sheep’s milk is particularly rich in conjugated linoleic acid. This may have a protective effect against cancer, diabetes and stabilizes the bones. However, there are still no valid scientific studies on the effects of natural trans fats that go beyond animal studies.

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