The Dish: Artificial or Natural? Taking in Trans Fats

Updated:Jan 11,2014

Fats - The Dish with Dr. Eckel Column (640 px)It has been hard to miss all the recent talk about trans fats. You might want to know: How do I distinguish industrially produced trans fats from natural trans fats? And how do these two types of trans fats affect my risk of heart disease differently?

Industrially produced or artificial trans fats result from adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils in an industrial process to turn the oils more solid. Industrially produced trans fats contained in partially hydrogenated oils make up about 80 percent of the trans fats we consume in the United States.Fats - Steak and Milk (spot)

On the other hand, natural trans fats are made in the stomachs of animals such as cows, sheep and goats. They exist naturally in beef, lamb and dairy products. They’re responsible for the remaining 20 percent of trans fats we eat. 

How do these two types of trans fats affect your health? Studies have shown that industrially produced trans fats can increase your risk of heart disease, while some evidence suggests that natural trans fats don’t have the same impact. A recent study shows that natural trans fats may not raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels like industrially produced trans fats do.

Although the effect of natural trans fats on the risk of heart disease hasn’t been clearly established, fatty meat and full-fat and reduced-fat dairy products containing natural trans fats are also high in saturated fats, which can increase your LDL cholesterol. So you should still:

  • Limit how much fatty meat and full-fat and reduced-fat dairy products you eat;
  • Choose lean meats and fat-free and low-fat dairy products; and
  • Limit trans fats to less than 1 percent of your total calories, regardless of the source of trans fats.

For tips on cutting down on saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol, check out smart substitutions and our frequently asked questions.

Types of Fats

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