Banning of Trans Fats - Good Fats vs. Bad Fats

As of June 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared that artificial trans fats are no longer considered safe and will be banned from our foods. This ruling allows three years for manufacturers to reformulate their products to rid of trans fats. Therefore, by 2018, our foods will be free of trans fats. This is great news!

But why?

What are trans fats?

There are two types of trans fats: naturally occurring and artificially made. The natural trans fats are produced in the gut of ruminant animals in very small amounts; these trans fats are present in meat and dairy products [1].

Artificially trans fats, also called hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), were created because they are cheap to produce and cause foods to not spoil as quickly. They also create desirable flaky textures in fried foods and baked goods. PHOs are found in many ready-to-eat foods like cookies, cakes, fried foods, frozen meals, and some oils and spreads. Unfortunately, PHOs have been found to be detrimental to human health, resulting in increased risks of developing congestive heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes [1,2,3].

How do trans fats affect our health?

Research has shown that PHOs increase levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides, and decrease levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol) [5,8]. Denmark, the first country to ban PHOs (in 2003), experienced a dramatic decline in cardiovascular disease of about 60% [6,7]. Overall, the research is conclusive and shows strong evidence that PHOs are dangerous. In fact, after banning PHOs this past June, the FDA has estimated that phasing out PHOs could prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 premature deaths each year [9].

How to avoid trans fats?

In 2006, the FDA required PHOs to be listed on the nutrition label [10]. Unfortunately, the law required manufacturers to declare trans fats if the amount were more than 0.5 gram per serving. A food label could say that the product has “zero gram trans fat” and still contains them. The only way to know if you are consuming PHOs is to read the ingredients list. If you read “hydrogenated oils,” or “partially hydrogenated oils,” the food item has trans fat! Pay attention to your labels!

How are they different from saturated fats?

Saturated fats are naturally found in all animal-source foods and are solid at room temperature [3]. These include meat, dairy, and eggs, and even in some vegetable-source fats such as coconut and palm oils. They are also harmful to our cardiovascular health (increases LDL cholesterol) and it is recommended to consume no more than 10% of your total daily energy from saturated fats [3]. Although PHOs have been shown to increase cardiovascular risk to a greater extent than saturated fat, saturated fats are still harmful [4,5].

What are good fat sources?

Unsaturated fats are healthy fats and are essential nutrients that our bodies need. There are two kinds: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated; both are good for you! Food sources high in unsaturated fats include most vegetable oils (e.g., olive and canola), nuts, seeds, avocado, and fatty fish. Remember that although unsaturated fats are good for you, they are very high in Calories. So be sure to measure your portions!



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2.     Kummerow, FA. The negative effects of hydrogenated fats what to do about them. Atherosclerosis. 2009;205(2):458-465.

3.     Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Dietary fatty acids for healthy adults. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2014;114(1):136-53.

4.     Mensink RP, Zock PL, Kester AD, Katan MB. Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: A meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003;77:1146-1155.

5.     Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, Rimm E, Colditz GA, Rosner BA, Hennekens CH, Willett WC. Dietary fat intake and the risk of coronary heart disease in women. New England Journal of Medicine. 1997;337:1491-1499.

6.     Stender S, Astrup A, Dyerberg J. Ruminant and industrially produced trans fatty acids: Health aspects. Food and Nutrition Research. 2008. DOI: 10.3402/fnr.v52i0.1651

7.     Leth T, Jensen HG, Mikkelsen AA, Bysted A. The effect of the regulation on trans fatty acid content in Danish food. Atherosclerosis Supplements. 2006;7:53-56.

8.     Ascherio A, Katan MB, Zock PL, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. trans Fatty acids and coronary heart disease. N Engl J Med. 1999;340:1994- 1998.

9. Bottemiller Evich H. It’s official: Obama axes trans fat. 2015. Retrieved from

10. Farley, T. Banning Goop: A brief history of trans fats. The Public Good Projects. 2015. Retrieved from