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You may hear and read a lot about trans fats, but what are they? Trans fats form during the manufacturing process when hydrogen molecules are added to vegetable oil in a process called hydrogenation. This process is intended to extend the shelf life and enhance the flavor of foods containing fat.
However, scientific research shows that trans fats can raise your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol levels, and clog your arteries with plaque. This is because the heat processes used during hydrogenation damage the chemical structure of healthy fat. The result is an unnatural type of fat your body doesn’t know how to process. What’s worse, the molecules may even detach during digestion and end up becoming dangerous, cell-damaging free radicals.
It is highly recommended that trans fats be avoided all costs. That may be hard to do because trans fats are everywhere in all process foods. You will find them in margarine, butter, substitutes, mayonnaise, crackers and cookies, just to name a few. All foods with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats—even if these fats are not listed on the label.
That seems like a sneaky trick, and it is! Here’s why. The government passed legislation requiring trans fat labeling on every food product. This can help when making food selections, but the government allows products with less than 0.5 percent trans fat per serving to use a “trans-fat-free” label. So if you consume more than one serving, as most people do, then you are increasing your intake of trans fat.
The best bet is to carefully read labels and make heart-healthy choices. Avoid plaque-building trans fats by consuming “healthy fats.” The best fat comes from natural plant, fish or animal sources with little-to-no processing.
- Monounsaturated fats are considered to be the healthiest fats because they raise good (HDL) cholesterol levels and help lower bad (LDL) cholesterol. These fats are found in olives, avocados, peanuts, almonds and apricots.
- Polyunsaturated fats are a good source of essential fatty acids that lower triglycerides and fight inflammation. The best sources are salmon, flaxseed, walnuts and pecans.
- Saturated fat comes from animals and dairy products like red meat, poultry, cheese, eggs, cream and real butter. Consume in moderation but do not avoid altogether.