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Trans Fats = Killer Fats

By Gary F. Zeolla

Note: This article was revised and expanded and incorporated in a chapter in the book God-given Foods Eating Plan.

Hydrogenated oils and the resultant Trans fat have been implicated in many health problems. This article will take a look at this artificial fat. But first, some chemistry.

Hydrogenation is a class of chemical reactions in which the net result is an addition of hydrogen (H2)…. The classical example of a hydrogenation is the addition of hydrogen on unsaturated bonds between carbon atoms (Wikipedia, "Hydrogenation").

So, as the name implies, the hydrogenation process adds a hydrogen atom to an unsaturated fat. Where the problem comes in is what happens to the fatty acids in the process.

In a natural fatty acid, the hydrogen atoms are usually on the same side of the double bonds of the carbon chain. However, partial hydrogenation reconfigures most of the double bonds that do not become chemically saturated, twisting them so that the hydrogen atoms end up on different sides of the chain. This type of configuration is called trans, which means "across" in Latin. (Note that it is not just a swapping of the position of the single hydrogen atom, rather it is a twisting of the whole molecule from that point on that creates the trans alignment (Wikipedia. "Trans fat").

So the Trans fatty acid that is created by the hydrogenation process is "twisted" into a completely unnatural configuration, and ingesting these unnatural fatty acids wrecks havoc in the body. Countries other than the United States have already recognized this danger.

After closely scrutinizing data from scientific studies and reviews, many European countries have either banned hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils altogether or have instituted future dates for elimination of their use in foods. These government actions concerning the trans fatty acids (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils) is directly related to studies that link trans fatty acid (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oil) consumption from processed foods to the development of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease (Recovery).

So there are many countries which have already banned hydrogenated oils or have plans to do so. But there are no such plans in the States at this time. But at least the FDA now requires the amount of Trans fats contained in a food to be indicated on the label. However, there is flaw with the labeling requirements.

If a food contains less than half a gram of Trans fat, it can list "0" on the label. But this means the food can contain as much as 0.49 grams and still have "0" on the label. This might not sound like much, but if you consume several servings of foods with almost half a gram, then the grams can add up. To ensure consuming food that is Trans fat free, read the ingredients label. If it lists "hydrogenated oil" or "partially hydrogenated oil" in the ingredients, then the food contains Trans fats and should be avoided.


Most of the trans fats in the American diet are found in commercially prepared baked goods, margarines, snack foods, and processed foods. Commercially prepared fried foods, like French fries and onion rings, also contain a good deal of trans fat (Harvard).

So along with processed foods, fried foods are also a source of Trans fat in the American diet. As for the health consequences of consuming Trans fat, consider the following:

An intake of trans-fatty acids of 5 grams per day is associated with an increase of 25% in the risk of ischemic heart disease (Stender).

Partial hydrogenation of oil results in fats containing unusual isomeric fatty acids characterized by cis and trans configurations. Hydrogenated fats containing trans fatty acids increase plasma total cholesterol (TC) and LDL-cholesterol while depressing HDL-cholesterol levels….

Subjects exhibited a higher total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol level when consuming the diet containing trans fatty acids while also depressing the HDL-cholesterol level. Consuming the partially hydrogenated fat diet treatment increased the fractional synthesis rate of free cholesterol. Consumption of hydrogenated fats containing trans fatty acids in comparison to a mixture of palmitic and oleic acids increase plasma cholesterol levels apparently by increasing endogenous synthesis of cholesterol (Sundram).

Compare this to saturated fats, "Saturated fats raise total blood cholesterol levels more than dietary cholesterol because they tend to boost both good HDL and bad LDL cholesterol" (Harvard). So saturated fats elevate LDL cholesterol levels, but they also elevate HDL levels. The latter helps to somewhat offset the deleterious effects of the higher LDL levels.

But with Trans fat, LDL levels are elevated while HDL levels are depressed. This is a double-whammy in increasing the risk of heart disease and makes Trans fat even more damaging than saturated fats. But this damaging effect on blood lipid levels is not the only way Trans fats increase heart disease risk.

Trans fats are even worse for cholesterol levels than saturated fats because they raise bad LDL and lower good HDL. They also fire inflammation, an overactivity of the immune system that has been implicated in heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. While you should limit your intake of saturated fats, it is important to eliminate trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils from your diet (Harvard).

Trans fatty acid intake has been associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. The relation is explained only partially by the adverse effect of these fatty acids on the lipid profile. We examined whether trans fatty acid intake could also affect biomarkers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction … CRP [C-Reactive Protein] levels were 73% higher among those in the highest quintile of trans fat intake, compared with the lowest quintile. … In conclusion, this study suggests that higher intake of trans fatty acids could adversely affect endothelial function, which might partially explain why the positive relation between trans fat and cardiovascular risk is greater than one would predict based solely on its adverse effects on lipids (Lopez-Garcia).

C-Reactive Protein levels are emerging as being just as if not more important than cholesterol levels in predicting heart disease. They are a marker of inflammation in the body. And Trans fat increase the levels of CRP and inflammation/ But the problems with Trans fat still don't end there.

Trans fats can wreak havoc on humans, lowering good cholesterol, raising bad cholesterol and reducing the quality of everything from testosterone to breast milk (MedIndia).

Diets rich in trans fat cause a redistribution of fat tissue into the abdomen and lead to a higher body weight even when the total dietary calories are controlled," said Lawrence L. Rudel, Ph.D., professor of pathology and biochemistry and head of the Lipid Sciences Research Program (ScienceDaily).

The relationship between trans fat and cancer risk is not clear. Some research has suggested that trans fats might increase the risk of breast cancer. Other equally good studies have not confirmed this observation (Discovery).

Using hydrogenated oils in foods is a strategy used by manufacturing companies to enhance the taste of their foods, add calories to their foods and extend the shelf life and shelf stability of those foods. This all adds up to higher profits for food companies. The real costs of using this ingredient, however, are shifted to consumers (a process called externalizing costs). Those include the starkly increased risk of a number of degenerative chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, birth defects, cancer, malabsorption of healthy oils and the universal breakdown of cell wall structures throughout all organs and tissues of the body, including nervous system tissues (eyes, brain, spinal cord, etc.). (NewTarget).

So the only "good" thing about Trans fat is they increase the profits of food companies. But their effect on human health is disastrous. So Trans fats are truly killer fats. Food containing Trans fat include fried foods, margarine, and many processed foods, snack foods, and commercial baked goods. Since such foods also contain other unhealthy ingredients, possibly the most important step a person can take to improve his or her health would be to eliminate all Trans fat containing foods from the diet.


Web Pages:

Harvard School of Public Health. Fats & Cholesterol: Nutrition Source.

MedIndia. 31 Dec 2005. Food labels to include information on trans fats in US.

NewTarget. The health dangers of trans fats have been known for decades, yet food companies still poison customers with hydrogenated oils.

Recovery Biostrctural Medicine. Trans Fatty Acids.

ScienceDaily. Trans Fat Leads To Weight Gain Even On Same Total Calories, Animal Study Shows.

Wikipedia. Hydrogenation.

Wikipedia. Trans Fat.

PubMed Abstracts:

The following citations refer to abstracts from scientific journals found on PubMed. PMID refers to the PubMed Identification Number. You can easily find the abstract by searching on the PMID on PubMed.

Lopez-Garcia E, Schulze MB, Meigs JB, Manson JE, Rifai N, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Hu FB.

Consumption of trans fatty acids is related to plasma biomarkers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction. J Nutr. 2005 Mar;135(3):562-6. PMID: 15735094

Stender S, Dyerberg J, Bysted A, Leth T, Astrup AV. High levels of industrially produced trans fatty acids in popular fast food - but not in Denmark--secondary publication. Ugeskr Laeger. 2006 Apr 24;168(17):1654-7. PMID: 16674878.

Sundram K, French MA, Clandinin MT. 1: Eur J Nutr. 2003 Aug;42(4):188-94. Exchanging partially hydrogenated fat for palmitic acid in the diet increases LDL-cholesterol and endogenous cholesterol synthesis in normocholesterolemic women. PMID: 12923649.


Trans Fats = Killer Fats. Copyright 2006 By Gary F. Zeolla.

Disclaimers: The material presented in this article is intended for educational purposes only. The author is not offering medical or legal advice. Accuracy of information is attempted but not guaranteed. Before undertaking any diet, exercise, or health improvement program, one should consult your doctor. The author is in no way responsible or liable for any bodily harm, physical, mental, or emotional, that results from following any of the advice in this article.

The above article was posted on this site October 23, 2006.
It originally appeared in the free email newsletter FitTips for One and All.

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