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Avoid the cholesterol double whammy of trans fats

Fast Facts

  • Choose fats wisely in the diet
  • Be sure to look at the nutrition facts label on foods

TEXARKANA, Ark. – Trans fats can make food taste better, last longer on the grocery store shelf and improve food texture, but once consumed, they can raise levels of bad cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. 

“You need to know that it raises low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, also known as LDL or bad cholesterol,” said Carla Haley-Hadley, Miller County extension agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “An elevated LDL blood cholesterol level increases your risk of developing heart disease, which is the leading killer of both men and women in the U.S.”

There are two sources of trans fat, also known as trans fatty acids.

“Trans fat can be formed naturally, produced in the gut of some grazing animals,” she said. “That’s why small quantities of trans fat can be found in animal products like milk, milk products and meat. It’s there naturally.”

The second type of trans fat is formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, a process known as hydrogenation. This process makes the fat solid and these partially hydrogenated oils are used to make improve shelf life, flavor stability and texture.

“About half of the trans fat Americans consume is formed during food processing and partially hydrogenated oils are the main source of this type of trans fat in the U.S.,” Haley-Hadley said.

When it comes to fats in your diet, limiting trans fats is one component of a healthful diet that also includes limiting saturated fat and dietary cholesterol.

Dietary fats are found in both plant and animal foods. Fat is a major source of energy for the body and aids in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat is also important for proper growth, development and maintenance of good health.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans notes that adults should consume no more than approximately one third of their calories from fat to reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, while providing for adequate intake of essential nutrients.

Fats are an important source of calories and nutrients for infants and toddlers up to two years of age. They have the highest energy needs per unit of body weight of any age group.

As a food ingredient, fat provides flavor, consistency and stability and helps you feel full. So where are you going to find trans fat? It can be found in many of the same foods as saturated fat. These can include: crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies and other baked goods, snack foods such as microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, fast food, vegetable shortenings and stick margarines, coffee creamer, refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls), and ready-to-use frostings.

“Learn to choose your fats wisely,” she said. “Look at the Nutrition Facts Label as your tool for reducing trans fat, saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet, which may also reduce your risk of developing heart disease.”

Trans fat has no percent daily value so when looking at the nutrition facts label, use the amounts of grams as your guide. In addition, check the ingredient list on the food package for partially hydrogenated oils. If a product contains partially hydrogenated oils then it might contain small amounts of trans fat. 

For more information about nutrition, visit www.uaex.edu or contact your county extension office. Please note that any bookmarked pages or publications at www.uaex.edu will be changing in the next few months.

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.


By the Cooperative Extension Service
U of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Extension Communications Specialist
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126
mhightower@uaex.edu

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