Trans fats which are also known as trans fatty acids or partially hydrogenated oils are industrially produced fatty acids or man-made fats into which hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oils and then pressurized in order to make them more solid or pastier fats.
Trans fats are also found naturally in small amounts (approximately 2% to 5% of total fat contents) in various animal-based products such as meats of ruminating animals which include cattle, sheep and others, as well as in dairy products including butter and cream.
The food industry — restaurants, fast-food establishments, manufacturers of packaged and processed foods as well as bakeries all use trans fats because they are inexpensive, because they add extra flavor and pleasing texture, because they extend shelf-life and thus postpone spoilage of foods, because they can be reused many times over and because they adhere to the food restriction of those who abide by the dietary laws of the Judaism (kosher) and Islam (halal) as well as vegetarianism and veganism as ascribed by secular or religious groups such as belonging to Buddhism, Ahimsa, Jainism and Hinduism.
Today, trans fats are found to a larger or smaller degree in a wide variety of foods but most of all in those which are fried and / or baked. Examples of common foods containing trans fats are: doughnuts; French fried potatoes and onion rings; potato, corn and tortilla chips; pizza dough; pie crusts; biscuits, cookies and crackers; icing and whip cream, microwave popcorn; and, of course, margarines and shortenings.
The Harm Caused by Trans Fats
Whereas many dietary fats are essential and promote good health, trans fats are not. As a matter of fact, trans fats are not only unessential but they have also been proven to be harmful in a number of ways. Thus trans fats, which are either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated but never saturated, are believe to be the worst kind of fats even worse than saturated fats which in reality also raise total cholesterol levels.
The solid aspects of trans fats are responsible for clogging up arteries and significantly increasing the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) which is characterized by the failure of coronary circulation to sufficiently supply blood to the muscles of the heart and to the surrounding tissues. Trans fats are also associated with higher risks of developing type 2 diabetes and suffering a stroke.
All that is due to the fact that trans fats are known to: (a) increase the levels of the “bad” cholesterol that is often also referred to as the LDL cholesterol; (b) decrease the levels of the “good” cholesterol which is also known as the HDL cholesterol; and (c) contribute to weight gain and obesity more than any other types of dietary fats.
In their 2002 “Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids,” the NAS (the National Academy of Sciences which is an official advisory board on nutrition, public health policies and labeling of food products) expressed grave concern over trans fats which was based on two main points. The first point being the fact that trans fats provide no known health benefits to humans, whether derived from animals or produced artificially. The second point was focused on the fact that trans fats raise the bad cholesterol while at the same time lowering the good cholesterol and in doing that multiply the risk of coronary heart disease.
Thus, the NAS, which was also backed up by the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that no level of trans fats is acceptable and should, therefore, be avoided whenever and wherever possible.