What is trans fat? Why is excess so harmful?

Trans fat is not produced by the human body, but is eaten by food, especially that rich in processed foods.

It is found in meat and milk or can be manufactured artificially, through a process called hydrogenation (adding hydrogen to the chemical structure of fat).

When trans fat is consumed in natural products, it is not so harmful to health, since the amounts present in food are quite low.

However, in industrialized foods the rate is usually much higher.

Before the hydrogenation process, this fat can be found in a liquid state (like an oil).

At the end of this process, the molecular chains can be stacked, leaving the fat in a solid state.

Therefore, they are produced for two reasons:

  • To give more flavor and consistency to food;
  • To increase the shelf life of some products.

According to the rules of the National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA), products that contain up to 0.2 g of the substance can be packaged with labels that say “without trans fat”.


What is trans unsaturated fat?

Trans unsaturated fats are those that undergo the hydrogenation process and are industrially modified . That is, they do not exist in nature.

Although unsaturated fats are considered to be good for health, the process of chemical modification also affects the way they act in the body.

Therefore, unsaturated and trans unsaturated fats are not the same thing .

Unsaturated foods, when consumed properly, are considered healthy. They are present in some fish (salmon, for example), oils and natural oils (of olive), chestnuts and seeds.

In the body, they can decrease bad cholesterol (LDL) as they are rich sources of omega 3 and omega 6, in addition to increasing good cholesterol (HDL).

Thus, this type can be divided into 3 categories:

  • Monounsaturated fat (benefits if consumed sparingly);
  • Polyunsaturated fat (benefits if consumed sparingly);
  • Trans unsaturated fat (harmful, regardless of the amount consumed).

Read more: Eating fruits and grains is more important than reducing fast foods

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats

The main difference between monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is the chemical structure.

These two types have health benefits, if they are consumed moderately, as they participate in the correct absorption of some vitamins such as A, D, E and K.

In addition, studies show that both reduce the risk of heart disease, as they raise the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and lower the bad (LDL).

Even with these benefits, the recommended consumption is low. This is because, although they are positive for health, excess can help with weight gain.

What is saturated fat?

Saturated fat is found mainly in animal foods such as red and white meats, eggs, milk and dairy products, in addition to coconut oil.

When consumed in excess, saturated fat has the same harms as trans fat: it increases bad cholesterol (LDL) and can facilitate the onset of heart disease.

But there is an important difference: they are naturally present in food, unlike trans, which is, in the vast majority, produced industrially.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that only 10% of the daily diet is saturated fat. If the person has a history of cardiovascular disease, this percentage drops to 7%.

Read more: Why eat vegetables?

Excessive consumption: why is it so harmful and what risks can it cause?

Trans fat increases bad cholesterol (LDL) and reduces good cholesterol (HDL), in addition to generating fat accumulation in some regions of the body such as the belly, arms, thighs and neck.

Because it is related to the increase in cholesterol, it facilitates the accumulation of fat in arteries and veins, hindering blood circulation and increasing cardiac risks.

Studies have already revealed that the substance is related to higher risks of:

  • Heart attack;
  • Cardiovascular diseases;
  • Stroke;
  • Insulin resistance (increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes);
  • Complications in the immune system.

Other research indicates that there is a relationship between trans fat and memory problems. But so far, this hypothesis has not been scientifically proven.

Because it is predominantly artificial, this substance is also related to the increase in obesity and the difficulty of losing weight.

Artificial trans fat does not bring any health benefits, since it does not contain and does not generate any type of nutrient for the body.

Which foods to avoid and which to include in the diet?

Some foods are high in trans fat and others are free of it. Know what to avoid, what to reduce and what to include in your diet to have a healthier lifestyle.


Foods that contain the most trans fat are:

  • Hamburger;
  • Pizza;
  • Packet snacks;
  • Stuffed cookies;
  • Ice creams;
  • Frozen food;
  • Fast foods;
  • Microwave popcorn.


Consume in moderation of:

  • Red meat;
  • Foods that take butter or margarine in preparation;
  • Fried foods;
  • Sugar and sweets in general.

Include in food

Include in your daily diet:

  • Fruit;
  • Vegetables;
  • Fish (roasted or boiled);
  • Chestnuts and seeds (flaxseed, sunflower).

Healthy eating and regular physical exercise are great recommendations for those who want to have a more balanced life.

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