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What are trans fats and why should I avoid them?

Processed foods can contain trans fats; oils that have been solidified to create something known as ‘hydrogenated’ fat. These types of fats are popular amongst food manufacturers because they help to bind ingredients, prevent separation, and increase the shelf life of foods such as cakes and biscuits. However, they can be very bad for our health. Trans fats have been shown to raise cholesterol, and cause atheroma (a fatty substance) to build up in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease and damage.

What About Natural Trans Fats?

The health concerns of trans fats are typically related to ‘artificial trans fats’, which are the processed, solidified oils that are added to processed foods. Trans fats also occur naturally in some foods, such as meat and dairy. As these natural trans fats are only present in very small quantities, they are unlikely to have the same sorts of effects as artificial trans fats, and do not need to be avoided completely.

How Big is the Problem?

The good news is that here in the UK, trans fats currently aren’t too much of a problem. The NHS reports that the average Brit eats around half of the recommended maximum of trans fats, and while we could benefit from eating even less, health experts believe there is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency: saturated fats. More people include unhealthy saturated fats as part of their diet.

A Healthy Fat Intake

We should all be taking measures to reduce trans fat and saturated fat intake, and increase intake of unsaturated fats, which are actually believed to have health benefits, including lowering cholesterol. We can make these changes by eating more foods that contain ‘good fats’, such as avocados and nuts, and cutting out processed foods such as biscuits, cakes, and pastries, fatty meats, and full fat dairy products.

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