A nutrition label is shown.
A quick look at a product’s ingredients can tell you if it contains trans fats. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Are you familiar with trans fats?

The pesky fats, also known as trans fatty acids, have been getting a lot of attention lately because of the serious risks they pose to consumer health.

And the government has taken steps to help fight the problem.

Earlier this year the Food and Drug Administration announced that all food manufacturers will have three years to stop using partially hydrogenated oils in their products. Such oils are the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods.

By 2018, then, food producers can only allow for trans fats that occur naturally in meat and dairy products. As it now stands, most trans fats are manufactured artificially by adding hydrogen to a liquid fat such as vegetable oil. This process is known as hydrogenation.

Many companies produce food and beverages that contain trans fats from hydrogenated oil because it gives the product a smooth or buttery texture that makes the product more desirable to the consumer. It also preserves flavor and extends the product’s shelf life.

Trans fats are often found in coffee creamers, baked goods such as muffins and cookies, fried foods, frozen foods, canned and bakery frostings, cream fillings, stick margarine and other spreads such as peanut butter. Monoglycerides and diglycerides—food additives that emulsify foods—can also contain trans fats.

Researchers have long known about the health risks associated with consumption of artificial trans fats.

They can cause higher levels of systemic inflammation, and they raise low-density lipoproteins, or LDL levels, the lousy type of cholesterol, while reducing high-density lipoproteins, or HDL levels, the healthy type of cholesterol. This can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke and also up the likelihood you’ll develop type 2 diabetes.

Here are some tips to avoid trans fats:

  1. Do your homework. Before buying a food or beverage, read the ingredient list and avoid products containing “partially or fully hydrogenated oils,” “monoglycerides” or “diglycerides.” Until 2018, when artificial trans fats are altogether prohibited, the FDA will allow manufacturers to label a product as containing 0 grams of trans fats—even if it contains up to 0.5 grams.
  2. Eat healthier fats. Olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil are high in monosaturated fats, which reduce bad cholesterol and help raise good cholesterol. Avocados, nuts, salmon and mackerel are all good examples of foods that contain healthy fats. Also, choose leaner cuts of meats and low-fat dairy products at the grocery store.
  3. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits. The health benefits of fruits and vegetables—fresh or frozen—are innumerable. Also worth noting: You should add whole grains for an overall healthy diet.

Once the FDA rules take effect, you won’t have to worry as much about consumption of trans fats. Until then, you should use your knowledge to help you avoid those pesky fats and their serious consequences.