Good fats, bad fats and trans fats

Our bodies need some fat, but which fat is a good fat? Our body’s cells need some fats to function, but the type of fat we consume makes all the difference. Trans fats are the baddies, now renowned for their contribution to poor heart health and high cholesterol.

In brief, trans fat is the common name for a type of unsaturated fat with trans-isomer fatty acids. Trans fats may be mono-unsaturated or poly-unsaturated. In general they are created by the hydrogenation of plant oils. We hydrogenate oils to make margarine and other soft spreads, or to get a creamy texture in processed food, or to increase a food’s shelf life. However trans fats are best avoided if you want to look after your arteries.

Don’t be daunted, avoiding trans fats is as simple as focusing on simple food.

For example, choose whole foods. The closer a food is to its natural form, or what it looks like when it comes out of the ground or off the tree or vine, the less likely it is to contain harmful fats. Avoid foods that contain the words “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list. Trans fat intake should not exceed 1 percent of total calories each day. For a 2,000 calorie diet, this means eating no more than 2.2 grams of trans fats per day.

Generally speaking, healthier fats – specifically the mono- and poly-unsaturated types – are often liquid at room temperature. By comparison, the less healthy trans and saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature. To get more good fats in your diet, cook with oils, such as olive oil, and choose foods such as nuts, avocados, and fatty fish over well-done red meats. For spreadables, select non-hydrogenated margarines or fully saturated fats like butter.

It is thought that people at risk from obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer should consume no more than 30% total calories from fat. For a 2,000 calorie diet, this means eating no more than 67 grams of total fat per day. Though this may vary from person to person, it is a good basic guide.

For more technical info on trans fats see the full transfats article.

In general, the same principles that support heart health support the health of your gut as well. If you stick to unprocessed items such as vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and beans (legumes) you probably won’t have to give trans fats a second thought.

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