Trans-fats are back in the news. The mayor of New York City is proposing a ban on all trans-fats in any and all restaurants in the city. Health professionals applaud it! Restaurant owners dread it!  Here's a re-cap of what trans-fats are and why they're bad for our health.

  • Trans-fats are formed when manufacturers make a hard fat like margarine or shortening from a liquid fat like corn oil margarine - a process call "partial hydrogenation". Hydrogenating fats makes liquid fats hard and slows spoilage. It can improve the texture of baked products as well. But it also turns healthy unsaturated fat into a not-so-healthy saturated fats and "trans" fats. Trans-fats have been shown to raise cholesterol just like the villainous saturated fats do.
  • Trans-fats now have to be on food labels but there is no recommended limitation so you won't see a percentage telling you how close you're getting to your limit.

Just how bad are they? Some researchers think that getting rid of trans-fats could lower the rate of heart disease in this country substantially. According to the FDA, the average American intake of trans-fats is 5.8 grams per day so it seems reasonable to aim for as far under as possible. But remember, trans-fats aren't the only game in town when it comes to lowering your heart disease risk. Saturated fats and other nutrition habits still matter.

Several years ago two researchers, Dr. Frank Hu and Dr. Walter Willett published three recommendations for the prevention of heart disease for the American public in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Here are their 3 big recommendations:

  • Switch to Non-hydrogenated, Unsaturated fats
  • Even foods that say "0" trans-fat can have up to .4 grams. Check the ingredients list - if it contains any oil that's been "partially hydrogenated" then there are at least some trans grams in the mix.
  • Fats like vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, avocadoes, and olives are great sources of these healthy fats.
  • Eat More Omega 3's
  • The American Heart Association recommends 2 servings of fish per week.
  • Fish oil supplements can take the place of fish but should be taken only under a physician's care
  • Eat more Fruits, Vegetables, Whole Grains, Nuts & Seeds
  • Diets high in these foods are high in potassium, magnesium, and fiber - all of which can help lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol.

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Nutrition Sciences