Trans fats are way worse for you than you might have realized. Lest you read this and think, “What’s new? We all know fat is bad or whatever,” that’s not the case. Regular old saturated fats like you get from delicious butter aren’t bad for you at all. Unless, like any food, you eat a ton of them.
Trans fats, or trans-fatty acid, is a product of hydrogenation, where hydrogen is combined with unsaturated fats in the presence of metal catalysts. It’s done to turn fats that are liquid at room temperature (like vegetable and olive oil) into solids. It’s how your fake-butter spreads are made, and it’s killing you.
A new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) says that trans fats significantly increase your risk of heart disease and early death.
The results of the “meta” study, which combined the results of around 20,000 studies, found that the saturated fats found in many foods–butter and other animal products, for example–are not bad for you.
“We found no association between saturated fat intake and all cause mortality,” say the study’s authors. “Other major causes of death, such as colon and breast cancer, also generally fail to find significant associations.”
Don’t switch to an all-steak diet just yet though, because “foods high in saturated fats, particularly processed and red meats, have been associated with increased mortality and risk of cancer.” Dairy products, though are generally fine, but if you have type 2 diabetes, you should go easy on all kinds of saturated fats.
Trans fats? Do yourself a favor and go empty out your refrigerator and pantry right now, otherwise you might not make it through the day. Trans fats, which are found in just about any kind of pre-prepared food, are death in a packet. “We found reliable and strong positive associations between trans fat intake and CHD (coronary heart disease) and CHD mortality,” say the study’s authors. Trans fats don’t necessarily increase the risk of a stroke, but if your ticker conks out you won’t be around to enjoy those non-dangers anyway.
The study concludes that you should replace fats with high-quality carbs (whole fruits, vegetables, pulses, and grains), and that you should replace trans fats with, well, with anything. When replacing just 2% of even the crappy, processed carbs in your diet with trans fats, you up your risk of type 2 diabetes by 39%. In short, trans fats are bad news.
If you ever felt suspicious of industrial food processes that perform such radical molecular surgery on everyday foods, you might feel vindicated. The real news has’t changed: complex, unprocessed carbs like legumes and vegetables are best, and a balanced amount of unprocessed fat is fine.
Findings like these also help explain the French Paradox, the observation that the French have low rates of coronary disease, but gobble down cheese and cream like they were, well, like they were delicious French cheeses.