How are they formed? And what's so bad about them? Get the stats on the new fat on the block.
The History of Hydrogenation
Solid shortening, the thick white paste that made your grandmother's piecrust so flaky, was created nearly a century ago by
adding hydrogen to liquid oils to make them turn solid at room temperature (the process known as hydrogenation). Originally
intended as a cheap substitute for butter and lard, partially hydrogenated oils―what we now call trans fats―became known for
their ability to increase the shelf life and improve the texture of baked goods and other food products. Soon food manufacturers
were adding them to everything from cookies to nondairy creamers to frozen foods, and restaurants were using them for deep-frying
Reasons for a Trans Fat Backlash
In 1994 a study at Harvard University reported that people who consumed the highest amounts of trans fats had twice the heart-attack
risk of those who consumed little. "The more we look at trans fat," says Walter Willett, who worked on the study, "the more
we see it is a metabolic poison." Trans fats are particularly harmful because they lower levels of good cholesterol and raise
levels of bad cholesterol.
New Rules for Food Companies
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration now requires food manufacturers to list trans fats (often called partially hydrogenated
oils) on nutrition labels, which prompted many food companies, including Kraft, Campbell's, and Wendy's, to reduce or remove
trans fats from their products.
Trans Fats vs. Saturated Fats
Unfortunately, many companies replace trans fats with saturated fats. That's dangerous because saturated fats already make
up a larger percentage of most Americans' diets―around 11 percent, as opposed to just 1.5 to 2.5 percent for trans fats, notes
Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc., director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer Center on Aging at Tufts
University, in Boston. It's important not to consume more saturated fat because you're looking only at the trans fat amounts.
"We should try to cut down on trans fats as well as saturated fats," says Lichtenstein.