What are trans fats or trans fatty acids? How they relate to LDL or HDL; list of healthy fats

Trans fats or trans fatty acids are linked to LDL or HDL cholesterol | Photo credit: iStock images


  • According to the World Health Organization, approximately 540,000 deaths each year can be attributed to the consumption of industrially produced trans fatty acids.
  • High trans fat intake increases risk of death from all causes by 34%, deaths from coronary heart disease by 28% and coronary heart disease by 21%: WHO
  • Partially hydrogenated oils (HOPs) are the main source of industrially produced trans fats. PHO is an ingredient in many foods, including margarine, vegetable shortening, and Vanaspati ghee; fried foods and donuts; baked goods such as crackers, cookies and pies; and pre-mixed products such as pancake and hot chocolate mixes: WHO

The Indian food regulator – the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has reduced the percentage of trans fatty acid content in fats and oils to 3% for the year 2021 and aims to reduce it to 2% by 2022.

This decision which reduced the limit on trans fat levels in food through an amendment to the Food Safety and Standards Regulations is important because the current allowable limit is an unhealthy 5%. And what food products will this amendment apply to?

The revised FSSAI regulation applies to vanaspati oils which are partially hydrogenated oils, edible refined oils, bakery shortenings, in chilled doughs, such as cookies and rolls, cakes, biscuits, pies, margarine and other cooking mediums such as mixed fat spreads and vegetables fat spills out. Trans fats are also found in microwave popcorn, frozen pizzas, fried foods including fries, donuts and fried chicken, non-dairy creamer, and more.

These fats are notoriously unhealthy, associated with an increased risk of death from coronary heart disease and heart attacks.

What are trans fats?
Trans fats, or trans fatty acids, are a form of unsaturated fat. They come in both natural and man-made forms.

Natural trans fats, also called ruminant trans fats:
Meat and dairy products from ruminants, such as cattle, sheep and goats. And how is it formed? Trans fats in ruminants are formed naturally when bacteria in the stomachs of these animals digest grass. Studies show that moderate consumption of these fats does not appear to be harmful. The best known trans fat in ruminants is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is found in dairy fat. It is believed to be beneficial and is marketed as a dietary supplement.

Artificial trans fats or industrial trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats:
It is trans fats that are dangerous for your health. How is it formed? When vegetable oils are chemically modified to stay solid at room temperature, giving them a much longer shelf life, they end up causing a significant increase in LDL (bad cholesterol) without a corresponding increase in HDL (good) cholesterol. During this time, most other fats tend to increase both LDL and HDL. A diet high in trans fats increases the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in adults. The more trans fat you consume, the greater your risk of heart and vascular disease.

2 main types of cholesterol:
Low density lipoproteins. LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, can build up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow. You may have heard of brittle arteries or plaque on the inner walls of the arteries. LDL causes this build-up.
High density lipoprotein. HDL, or “good” cholesterol, picks up excess cholesterol and returns it to your liver. It is broken there and thrown out of the body.

Try to use more monounsaturated fat in your diet. MS fats are found in olive, peanut, and canola oils. It is a healthier option than saturated fat. Nuts, fish, and other foods containing unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are other good food choices that contain healthy fats.