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Foods with trans-fatty acids, also known as trans fats, contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat, a chemical process that transforms liquid fats into solids. Highly processed and fast foods contain a great deal of them. These compounds are believed to contribute to heart disease, stroke, and obesity, and raise cholesterol levels in the blood. The best way to avoid them is to eat a healthy diet of mostly fresh and unprocessed foods.
Commercially prepared baked goods as well as processed and fast food have a bad reputation for containing trans-fatty acids. Some health experts say anything from the middle section of the grocery store, where boxed and canned foods are found, should be avoided. Fast food, often fried in hydrogenated oils or containing them, is a notorious source of trans-fatty acids. Frozen foods also contain high levels of this substance, so consumers should check labels carefully before purchasing.
In addition to excess fat, snack foods with trans-fatty acids are usually loaded with sugar. They are also likely to have refined carbohydrates, such as those found in white bread, crackers, and cookies. Sugar and refined carbs cause blood sugar levels to spike and then drop quickly, causing a “sugar crash,” a sharp plunge in energy some time after eating them. Low-fat cheese, nuts, and foods containing whole grains release energy over a longer period and do not have this effect.
Foods with trans-fatty acids raise bad LDL cholesterol levels. This substance builds up in blood vessels and can cause blockages that lead to heart attack or stroke. In addition, trans fats are extremely high in calories and contribute to obesity. Being overweight is also a known risk for heart disease as well as diabetes and a host of other health problems. Eating less processed items helps raise good HDL cholesterol and assists in weight loss.
Dairy and animal products are foods with naturally occurring trans-fatty acids. A small amount of these is considered healthy because they provide vitamins, protein, and minerals that the body needs. It is recommended they be consumed sparingly. The leanest cuts of meat are the best choice. Natural trans-fatty acids may or may not affect cholesterol levels in the same way as hydrogenated fats.
The body must have some fat as part of the diet to work properly. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble and need it in order to be absorbed. Monounsaturated fats, such as olive and canola oil, and polyunsaturated fats found in fish, corn, and soybean oils help lower blood cholesterol. They are the best choice for dietary sources of essential fatty acids. Lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and a small amount of mono-and polyunsaturated fats make up a healthy diet.
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