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Trans Fat

Have you ever noticed how the words, “0 grams Trans Fat,” mysteriously appeared on several packaged foods? The term showed up on the front in bold writing and was listed on the nutrition facts label in 2006. This was the year that the U.S. government made it mandatory that labels should reveal the amount of trans fat in foods. But why should we know about trans fat content and what is it anyway?

Not a New Thing

Although the term may be relatively new to us, trans fat has been in our foods for quite some time. This fat, also known as hydrogenated fat or oil, was patented in the early 1900s by the scientist, Wilhem Normann. He used a process to pump hydrogens into vegetable oils and this gave vegetable oils the characteristic of being solid at room temperature. This was the first fake fat to make it to the food chain. Proctor and Gamble introduced it to the food supply in the form of Crisco.

Once manufacturers understood that it had benefits such as increasing the shelf life of products, it was used in processed foods such as cookies, pastries, non dairy creamers and margarine. But in 1990s researchers reported that these fats increased LDL (the bad cholesterol) and increased the risk of heart disease.

Other researchers pointed out other less-than desirable characteristics. For example, researchers now know that this type of fat can replace a natural fat called, DHA, in the membranes of the brain cell. This changes the electrical activity, and the communication between cells weakens. In other words, your brain does not function as well as it should. How can you limit or alleviate trans fat in the diet?

Read the Labels

Trans fats are mainly found in processed and packaged foods. Read the label. If the label says, hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil, the product has trans fat. If a product has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, the manufacturer can say that a product is free of it. So, it is important to read the label to determine if it contains this. Choose foods that are free of it.

Some fast food restaurants still use trans fat products. Ask if hamburgers, French fries and other prepared foods contain it. Avoid the ones that do. The American Heart Association recommends that less than one percent of your calories could come from this type of fat, but ideally, this is one food substance that should not be consumed.

Keeping your body healthy as always is important and avoiding trans fat can help you reach this goal.


A History of Trans Fat – Accessed, 11/26/10.

Pamela A. Williams writes from Southern California.

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About Pamela A. Williams, MPH, RD

Pamela A. Williams, MPH, RD

is a dietitian, photographer, and writer in Southern California.

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