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You may have recently heard about the dangers of trans fats, and how avoiding them in your diet will help you lead a healthier lifestyle. But what are trans fats? What foods contain them? And why are they so bad?
Trans fats – denoted by kind of oil labeled “partially hydrogenated” in an ingredient list – are used in many different kinds of foods primarily as preservatives. Trans fats were developed to keep products like margarine in a semi-soft state.
Through a chemical process, the molecular makeup of corn, vegetable, soy, or other oil is altered to keep it firm rather than reverting to its original liquid form. Trans fats are found in virtually any kind of processed food, from snack foods (like potato chips, tortilla chips, snack cakes, and cookies) to vegetable shortening to margarine.
Whenever an ingredient label contains an oil labeled “partially hydrogenated,” the food contains trans fats. So what's wrong with trans fats? When they were developed, they revolutionized the food packaging industry and caused much excitement. With the escalation of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, however, many doctors and nutritionists have turned to our diets to try to figure out what we're eating that is causing the problem – and the finger is continually pointed to trans fats.
Consumption of trans fats are linked to high cholesterol. In fact, many anti-trans fat crusaders cite trans fats as the cause of everything from obesity to cancer. While researchers are still establishing conclusive link between trans fats and various problems, we do know that trans-fats are not natural, and that other, all-natural preservative options are better than partially hydrogenated oils. Interestingly, many European countries have banned trans fats completely from packaged foods, and America has recently changed its labeling requirements for foods with trans fats.
Now, all foods with trans fats must add the percentage/volume directly to the label, so consumers can see what, exactly, they're buying.