Trans fats have been in the news a lot lately. But what are they and what do they really do to us?
In science-speak, trans fats are unsaturated fats (they’re always unsaturated and never saturated fats) with at least one trans-isomer fatty acid. Trans fats are exceptionally rare in nature. They are a product of food manufacturing processes, like hydrogenation (this is how we get hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils). Hydrogenation allows oils that would be liquid at room temperature to be solid instead.
Health experts suggest that we reduce trans fats to trace amounts. I recommend we reduce them to zero. This means avoiding processed foods and reading every food label you can. Even a food that is labelled “Trans Fat Free” may contain some amount of trans fat. It just has to be below the FDA’s “acceptable” limit. Foods that commonly contain trans fats are margarines, vegetable shortenings and many snack foods. One naturally occurring trans fat is in CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, and has multiple health BENEFITS. Its manmade cousins do not share this with CLA.
The reason health experts are encouraging the removal of trans fats from the diet is the research showing the consumption of trans fats tied to increased risk of coronary artery disease. Trans fats increase the levels of LDL cholesterol and decrease the levels of HDL cholesterol in the blood. LDL is the “bad” cholesterol and HDL is the “good” cholesterol, so these changes are undesirable to say the least.
Additionally, recent research out of the UCSD School of Medicine links trans fats to aggressive behavior and irritability.
The size of the study is large, which is promising, but does not assign causality. This means that a relationship has been determined through a survey of dietary consumption of trans fats and aggressive/irritable behavior, but the study didn’t collect data that proved trans fats caused the behavior.
Here’s a summary of the findings in the words of one of the researchers:
“We found that greater trans fatty acids were significantly associated with greater aggression, and were more consistently predictive of aggression and irritability, across the measures tested, than the other known aggression predictors that were assessed,” said Beatrice Golomb, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the UC San Diego Department of Medicine.