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What are trans fats?

There are two types of trans fat- naturally occurring and artificial. Naturally occurring trans fats are produced in small quantities in some animals. These are considered safe. Artificial trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. They are called partially hydrogenated oils.

Trans fats were initially introduced as an alternative to saturated fat which was thought to increase coronary heart disease. Trans fat was considered a healthier alternative to saturated fats such as butter.

Why do manufactures use trans fat?

Trans fats are easy to use, inexpensive to produce and have a long shelf life. They give food a desirable taste and texture and can be used many times over when frying.

How do trans fats affect my health?

In the early 1990s, studies showed trans fat increased the risk of coronary heart disease. Trans fat raises bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lowers good (HDL) cholesterol.[1] Eating trans fat increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.[2] Trans fat is linked to higher body weight, heart disease and memory loss.[3]

What is the FDA’s position on trans fat?

In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required manufacturers to label trans fat content in food. As a result, trans fat consumption declined significantly.

In November 2013, the FDA announced that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) in human food.

The FDA recently took steps to eliminate trans fat, though many manufacturers and restaurants were already doing so. Companies such as McDonald’s stopped cooking french fries in trans fat more than a decade ago. Chick-fil-A removed all artificial trans fat from its menu in 2008.

Dr. Steven Nissen, chair of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic said,
“Trans fat is a tragic story for the American diet. In the 1950s and ’60s, we mistakenly told Americans that butter and eggs are bad and pushed towards margarine, which is basically trans fat. We now know that saturated fat is relatively neutral. It is trans fat that is harmful.”

Nissen praised the FDA for its “bold courage” and said it “deserves a lot of credit” for making this “enormously important” move.


1. Willett, WC, et all, Intake of Trans Fatty Acids and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Among Women, Lancet, 1993 Mar 6;341(8845):581-5.

2. Clandinin, Tom and Wilke, Michaelann, Do Trans Fatty Acids Increase the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes?, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, June 2001 vol. 73 no. 6 1001-1002

3. Bui, Alexis, Trans Fat Consumption is Linked to Diminished Memory in Working-aged Adults, American Heart Association Meeting Report Abstract 15572, November 18, 2014 Categories: Scientific Conferences & Meetings

Author's bio: Naghma Husain is a professional educator, a nutrition and fitness coach, and a mom of three. She specializes in creating fun and easy fitness plans leading to permanent weight loss and overall better health. She writes for our blog using her experiences through many years of implementing small lifestyle changes through exercise and nutrition.

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