Trans fatty acids appear as an ingredient in many processed foods, including crackers, prepared dessert products such as cookies and some butter-substitute spreads. But trans fat also significantly raises the risk of heart disease, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. In 2006 the Food and Drug Administration began requiring food manufacturers to label all foods containing trans fat. The FDA recommends keeping your consumption of trans fats as low as possible.
Although trans fat naturally appears in small quantities of foods such as meat and milk, most of the trans fat eaten these days comes from an artificial process that involves adding hydrogen atoms to vegetable oils, turning the liquid oil into a soft solid oil. Trans fat helps prolong the shelf life for products, which is why you'll find them in everything from cookies to microwave popcorn. Reduce your intake of trans fat as low as you can; government-issued dietary guidelines for Americans recommends getting no more than 1 percent of your daily calories from trans fat.
To reduce your intake of trans fat below the recommended 1 percent of daily calories, you'll have to choose your foods very carefully. If you normally consume about 2,000 calories each day, you shouldn't consume more than 20 calories in trans fat, or just a little more than 2 g of trans fat in a day. You can easily reach this intake of trans fat by eating one store-bought cookie, if that cookie was made using trans fat. The FDA mandates that food manufacturers list trans fat content specifically on their food labels, along with total fat and saturated fat. Using these food labels, you can monitor your consumption to keep trans fat intake below 1 percent of your daily calories.
Increasing your intake of trans fat above 1 percent of your daily calories can have dramatic effects on your health. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, consuming 2 percent of your daily calories as trans fat -- a total of about 40 calories each day for someone who eats 2,000 calories in total -- can raise your risk of coronary artery disease by one-third. Consuming trans fat increases your "bad" LDL cholesterol and decreases your "good" HDL cholesterol. It also contributes to inflammation, another risk for heart disease, along with stroke and diabetes. Finally, there's some evidence that trans fat consumption can promote obesity.
Since the FDA sounded the alarm on trans fats and their effects on your health, many food manufacturers have worked to replace trans fats in their products. Therefore, if you want to keep your intake of trans fat as low as possible, as recommended, choose products that contain no trans fat. In fact, many labels now trumpet the fact that the food contains no trans fat. Read carefully, however, since in some cases manufacturers may have replaced the trans fat with saturated fat, which also can raise your risk of heart disease. Try to replace saturated fat and trans fat with healthier monosaturated fats, such as olive oil, and polyunsaturated fats, such as soybean oil and corn oil.