Are foods with trans fat really that bad?
Q. I know trans fats are unhealthy. But are they really more dangerous than other types of fat, namely saturated fat?
A. Yes. Trans fats, which are made by adding extra hydrogen to vegetable oils, originally seemed to food manufacturers like a promising alternative to butter because they provided a similar taste without the saturated fat and cholesterol—and they lasted longer on shelves. But they turned out to be even worse for our health than saturated fat. Not only do trans fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol, but they also lower HDL (good) cholesterol, and some evidence suggests that they may contribute to inflammation. You can avoid them by steering clear of products that list “partially hydrogenated oil” as an ingredient, or, if you’re at a restaurant, by asking to see the nutrition information for menu items. (Some restaurants provide this, particularly chain restaurants.)
Read about the tastiest trans-fat-free butter substitutes. And check out our report on the best and worst fast-food restaurants.
By the way, you may have heard about a controversial new study suggesting that saturated fat might not be as dangerous as once thought. But the analysis turned out to have important shortcomings, and our medical advisers say you should still limit your calories from saturated fat to no more than 7 to 10 percent of your daily calories. For someone eating a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet, that’s 140 to 200 calories.
A version of this article appears in the June 2014 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.
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