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Trans Fat: What Fats Are Good for Me?

March 2014

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

When people take small steps to improve their diet, they often think about the fat content of the foods that they eat. There’s been talk about all types of fat, including trans fat, in recent years but why is there such a concern? Below is a description of all types of fats to better understand what trans fat is and why it is not healthy to consume.

Let’s start with fats that help to lower LDL cholesterol known as the “bad” cholesterol in your body. Unsaturated fats are sometimes called “good” fats because they work in your body to help lower the bad cholesterol in your blood. These fats are usually liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats come in two types, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

Monounsaturated fats are found in many oils including vegetable, olive, canola, peanut, and sunflower oil.They are also found in avocados, peanut butter, nuts, and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats are found in oils including vegetable, soybean, corn, and safflower oil, as well as, salmon, mackerel, herring, sunflower seeds, and walnuts.

Let’s look at the fats that can raise the LDL, or bad cholesterol, in your body. These fats are called saturated fats and are usually solid at room temperature. They are found in foods that come from animal sources like beef, lamb, lard, cream, butter, and cheese. Other foods that may have saturated fats are baked foods and fried foods. Coconut and palm oils are also saturated.

Last, but not least, are trans fats. Trans fat is a type of fat that is made from unsaturated fats, but changed, so that they become more solid instead of liquid. They are also called “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated oils.” These fats raise your LDL cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol (HDL). Trans fats can be found in foods that are fried like French fries and doughnuts, as well as, baked goods, stick margarines, and shortening.

Why are trans fats not good for you? Trans fats increase your bad cholesterol and decrease your good cholesterol. The bad cholesterol will be circulating in your blood, moving throughout your body, and leaving fatty deposits to build up slowly. These deposits may block your blood as it moves through the arteries which will increase your risk for a heart attack or a stroke.

It is important to make sure you are eating all the types of fats in moderation and getting mostly unsaturated fats in your diet to help keep the good cholesterol levels high. Aim to eat no more than 2 tablespoons of fat every day, about the size of a golf ball, choosing mostly unsaturated fats. Much of the fat we consume is hidden in foods and it is important to consume low-fat foods as much as possible.

Remember that all fats yield about 45 calories per teaspoon so two Tablespoons (6 teaspoons) of any type of fat is approximately 270 calories. Fats in general yield 9 calories per gram. Make sure you read the nutrition facts label on all food products to keep your fat consumption level to recommended amounts. Small steps to improve your health make a big difference.