Trans Fat Versus Saturated Fat

Trans fat and saturated fat seem to be quite similar in that both are semi-solid to solid at room temperature and both provide a high level of taste and texture satisfaction. However, they are quite distinct from each other at the molecular level and how are bodies metabolize them. Here is the lowdown.

Trans Fat

Trans fat (or trans fatty acid) is a type of fat that occurs naturally in small amounts in the fatty parts of meat and dairy products from cattle, sheep, and other ruminants. But most trans fats in our diets are artificially produced via a “hydrogenation” process in which hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oil to make it more solid.

Artificial trans fats are used extensively in commercial food manufacturing to add taste and texture to foods, to increase stability, and to extend shelf life. They are less expensive and easier to cook with than naturally occurring oils.

Saturated Fat

Saturated fat is a naturally occurring fat that is typically solid at room temperature. It is saturated in the sense that the carbon atoms in the fatty acid chain are fully saturated with hydrogen atoms. Unlike trans fat, saturated fat is naturally hydrogenated.

Saturated fats can be further broken down into short, medium, and long-chained saturated fatty acids. For example, butyric acid is a short-chained fatty acid that gives butter its distinctive taste. Short-chained fatty acids are more easily broken down and have fewer calories than longer-chained fatty acids.

Food Sources

Trans fats are found in fried foods, baked goods (donuts, cookies, crackers), some margarines, vegetable shortening, and numerous processed foods. If a product label states “hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated oil”, this likely means that it contains trans fats.

Saturated fats comes mainly from animal products such as butter, cheese, eggs, whole milk, ice cream, cream, and fatty meats such as beef, lamb, pork and even poultry. They are also found in plant-based products such as cocoa butter, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.

Health Considerations

Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol levels. Likewise, trans fat increases LDL cholesterol but also decreases high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol. Consumption of either type of fat increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. They are also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Our bodies require a certain amount of saturated fat to function properly although most of us consume far more saturated fat than necessary. Trans fats have no health benefits or nutritional value. Furthermore, our bodies have a difficult time breaking them down which allows them to build up in the blood vessel linings, brain surfaces, and other areas of the body.

Dietary Recommendations

The AMH recommends limiting the amount of saturated fats in the diet to less than 7 percent of total daily calories. For a person consuming 2,000 calories a day, that equates to 16 grams of saturated fat.

The American Heart Association (AMH) recommends that you keep trans fat intake to less than 1 percent of total calories. For example, if you need 2,000 calories a day, you should consume less than 2 grams of trans fat. One way of limiting trans fat is to cut back on processed baked foods and hydrogenated margarines.