nutrition and avoiding trans fats

At Chambersburg Chiropractic, we believe in maintaining good health for the whole body. This not only includes regular chiropractic care, but exercise, lifestyle balance, and good nutrition.

If you’ve listened to health news any time in the past few decades, you’ve probably heard about “trans fats” and the risk they pose to heart health. In this post we’ll look at what makes trans fats so problematic and will share some simple ways you can avoid them.

What are trans fats?

Trans fats, also referred to as trans fatty acids, are often found in fried foods, many margarines, cookies, chips, and other prepackaged foods that are designed to have a long shelf life. (Trans fats can also occur naturally in some kinds of meat and dairy fat.)

Trans fats often come from partially hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenation is a chemical term that has to do with adding hydrogen at the molecular level. We won’t get into all the science here, but essentially, natural fats and oils undergo a chemical process that makes them semi-solid and more stable. So safflower seed oil becomes semi-solid and can be turned into margarine that’s easy to spread and convenient to cook with.

Partially hydrogenated oils are used to stabilize and prevent spoilage in prepackaged foods. If you were to bake a batch of cookies at home, hopefully you wouldn’t keep them around for the next three months. But pre-packaged cookies do last that long, and longer, thanks to partially hydrogenated oils.

Why are trans fats so bad?

Finding ways to make food last longer or reducing cost isn’t bad per say, but the problem comes with the way trans fats interact with the human body. Trans fats increase the amount of “bad” cholesterol in your blood and decrease the “good” cholesterol.

Multiple large-scale studies (notably in 1994 and 2007) have demonstrated a very strong link between trans fats and heart disease. There are many controversial studies out there about good/bad foods for your health, but this isn’t one of them—the evidence is pretty solid. The CDC, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Mayo Clinic have recommended trans fats be eliminated as much as possible from daily consumption.

How can I avoid trans fats?

If you’re serious about improving and maintaining your health, minimizing trans fats in your diet is a good place to start. Hopefully you’re already limiting fast food in your diet (French fries and doughnuts have been notorious for trans fat content), so we’re going to focus on what’s in your grocery cart.

  • Read labels. Avoid products that list “shortening” or “partially hydrogenated oil” of any kind. There are many new products coming out that eliminate trans fats—such as no-stir natural peanut butters—that taste similar to traditional products. But be sure to keep an eye out for sugar and other kinds of fats, too. Just because something is free of trans fat doesn’t make it a health food!
  • Opt for fresh or homemade over store-bought. When you bake, say, cookies at home, either from scratch or a simple mix, you skip the partially hydrogenated oils. (Many times a mix is the same as having someone else measure the dry ingredients for you, but do read the label!) Of course, remember that pretty much any kind of cookie has a lot of sugar and fat in it, so it’s not a health food—but homemade is a better alternative to store-bought.
  • Eat simple and fresh. You can avoid trans fats if you depend less on prepackaged foods to begin with. Try starting with ingredients like rice, beans, pasta, vegetables (hint: frozen veggies are just as nutritious and sometime cheaper than fresh), and natural meats instead of reaching for a package or a TV dinner. Many times simple meals like stir-fry, soup, chili, lasagna, etc. are not hard to prepare, don’t take a lot of time, and may even save you money in the long run.
  • Shop along the edges. A good rule of thumb is to buy most of your groceries from the outside edges of the grocery store layout—where you tend to find fresh produce, meat, seafood and dairy—and to avoid the center aisles, which typically contain prepackaged foods.
  • Start slow. If you’re going to make long-term lifestyle changes, take your time, think it through and cut problematic items out bit by bit. If you try to do everything all at once, you’re more likely to get overwhelmed and give up. Even if you can only cut out 75 or 80% of the trans fats in your diet, your heart will thank you!

If you have any more questions about nutrition or healthy living, talk to Dr. Robert Fiss or Dr. Ryan Fiss during your next visit, or contact our office.


Photo credit: malloreigh via Compfight