Ultimate Guide to Nutrients: Understanding Trans Fats

At the beginning of August, I wrote the first in a series of articles on FAT. In that article, I explained that I was breaking this topic down into a series of six articles:

  1. Fat-the basics
  2. Fats to avoid
    1. Trans Fatty Acids
    2. Vegetable oils
  3. Saturated fat
  4. Unsaturated fat
  5. Omega fat
  6. Cholesterol

The first article covered the basics on Fat, including defining fat, fatty acids, and types of fat. The next topic I’d like to cover is “Fats to avoid”. I decided to break this topic down into two separate articles, because quite frankly, trans fatty acids needs an article on it’s own. So my six article series has become seven !

What are Trans Fats?

In my first article, I explained that fats are divided into groups based on the types of bonds. Here is a quote from that article:

“Fatty acids are broken down further into 2 other groups, based on the chemical bonds between the carbon atoms in the chain. These bonds can either be single or double bonds. These bonds affect the properties and characteristics of the fatty acid.:

  1. Saturated Fatty Acid – SFA – have all single bonds between the carbon. Because there are no double bonds in the chain, SFA’s are rigid and inflexible, and completely surrounded or SATURATED with hydrogen. This rigid nature makes them quite dense, and, therefore solid at room temperature.
  2. Unsaturated Fatty Acid – UFA – have one or more double bonds. The existence of double bonds, makes the UFA’s flexible or bendable. It also means there are fewer hydrogen atoms, so the UFA are not surrounded or saturated by hydrogen, therefore, they are UNSATURATED. The flexibility of these acids make them highly unorganized, preventing them from coming together, making them liquid in most cases.
    • MonoUnsaturated Fatty Acid – MUFA – have one double bond
    • PolyUnsaturated Fatty Acid – PUFA – have two or more double bonds.

This information is important for understanding trans fats. All fats, are made of mainly hydrogen and carbon, with oxygen molecules at the end. The double bonds in NATURAL UFA’s contain hydrogen molecules on the same side of a double bond. This allows the fatty acid to be flexible and, therefore, liquid at room temperature:

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 11.01.38 AM.png

HOWEVER, a trans fatty acid is CHEMICALLY ALTERED, so that the two hydrogen atoms are on opposite sides of the double bond:

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 11.04.15 AM.png

This makes the trans fatty acid straight and rigid and SOLID at room temperature, similar to saturated fatty acids:

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 11.06.21 AM.png


How are Trans Fats made?

While some trans fats occur naturally, in animal products, the VAST majority of trans fats are commercially produced, by chemically turning PUFA’s from their natural liquid state, into a solid (AKA: margarine/shortening).

Here’s the process (2):

  1. It begins with cheap oils, such as soy, corn, canola or cottonseed-which have become rancid from processing (and genetically modified)
  2. Mixed with tiny metals such as nickel oxide, which acts as a catalyst for the next step.
  3. The oil mixture is  exposed to hydrogen gas in a high pressure/temperature reactor
  4. Emulsifiers and starch, similar to soap are added to the mix to improve consistency.
  5. Steam cleaned at high temperature, removing the unpleasant odor.
  6. Bleached to remove the “unappetizing gray” color
  7. Dyed to make it resemble butter
  8. Compressed into blocks or tubs.

This process creates

partially-hydrogenated oil,

which are trans fatty acids.

Why you need to avoid Trans Fats…

You mean, aside from the fact that they are HIGHLY PROCESSED fats, made from chemicals and rancid, genetically modified oil?

Here are some other reasons, in case that’s not enough..

  1. Trans fats are toxic to your body. Unfortunately, your body recognizes them as regular fatty acids and makes them part of your cell wall. This causes tremendous problems, because the hydrogen molecules are in the wrong place. Cell metabolism can only occur when all of the electrons are in the proper arrangement. (2)
  2. Increased risk for cancer (2)
  3. Increased risk for many serious diseases including: (2)
    1. Heart disease
    2. Diabetes
    3. Obesity
    4. Immune system dysfunction
    5. low birth weight babies
    6. birth defects
    7. impaired vision
    8. sterility
    9. bone/tendon problems

If Trans Fats are bad, then saturated fats must be bad too, right? WRONG!

We will be covering saturated fats in a future article in this series, but, suffice it to say, they have been unfairly vilified. To compare trans fats to saturated fats is like comparing apples to oranges. There is no comparison.  Let me ask you this…Would you eat an apple, that had been chemically altered to look and taste like an orange, or would you just eat the real orange?

EVERY cell membrane in your body is made up of 50% saturated fat. (3)  Saturated fats, in the proper amounts, have many benefits, including (3):

  • Enhanced immune system function
  • Improved bone health
  • Needed for the body to properly utilize certain Omega-3 essential fatty acids
  • Anti-microbial properties
  • Preferred food for the heart! (YES, does that surprise you?) The heart draws on the saturated fat around the heart for energy during times of stress

On the other hand, as stated above, trans fats are TOXIC, serve no purpose, and reek havoc on our bodies.

But, Trans Fats were outlawed and are no longer used…right? Um…Not exactly

In 2015, the Obama administration and the FDA issued a ban on PARTIALLY-HYDROGENATED OIL, giving the food industry 3 years to “phase them out”, so they are still a part of the food system. (4) Partially-hydrogenated oils have been banned, NOT fully hydrogenated oil. If you fully hydrogenate an oil, you COMPLETELY turn it into a saturated fat. In other words, you add the missing hydrogen molecules, and remove the double bonds. (6)


So, fully-hydrogenated oils are seen as “safer” because they do not technically contain trans-fats, however, keep in mind the HIGHLY PROCESSED nature of these fats, in combination with the rancid, genetically modified oil.  Skip these chemically manufactured saturated fats, and eat the REAL thing!

The loop hole

So, you go to the store and pick up a pre-packaged dinner which says “ZERO TRANS FATS” on the label. Do you trust the label and does zero really mean zero?

NO! According to the FDA guidelines:

A product LABELED ZERO can contain up to .5 gram of trans fat per serving. 

ALWAYS read the ingredient label! ALWAYS! If there is ANY partially-hydrogenated oil in the ingredients, the product absolutely contains trans fats, even if it says “ZERO TRANS FAT” on the label (4)

Foods to avoid:

I go to my standard advice… eat a WHOLE FOOD DIET, and stay away from processed food. Here’s a chart showing the products highest in trans fats.






  1. McGuire, Michelle; Beerman, Kathy A.. Nutritional Sciences: From Fundamentals to Food (Page 223). Cengage Textbook. Kindle Edition.
  2. https://draxe.com/the-truth-about-saturated-fat/
  3. https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/know-your-fats/the-skinny-on-fats/#benefits
  4. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102351941
  5. http://www.politico.com/story/2015/06/obama-bans-trans-fat-119050
  6. https://www.thespruce.com/do-hydrogenated-oils-contain-trans-fats-2246050



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