Saturated Fats and Trans Fats: The Truth About Dietary Fats

Results from a 2014 study of the primary grocery shoppers for 2,000 American households are shocking.
60% are unaware of the dangers of trans fats, and
15% have not heard of saturated fats.

Know Your Fats

Fats are one-third of the dietary macronutrient triad (fats, carbohydrates, protein). A necessity for a healthy life.

Without fats in your diet (as we’ve seen with the low fat craze over the last 60 years), many conditions crop up including, but not limited to:

  1. imbalance in hormone levels
  2. obesity
  3. thyroid troubles
  4. autoimmune diseases
  5. lupus
  6. scleroderma
  7. rheumatoid arthritis
  8. poor hair, skin, and nail health
  9. plus a multitude of other conditions and disease

We need to talk about saturated fats and trans fats!

We need to teach our children and friends about saturated fats and trans fats!

We surely need to talk to whoever in our household is doing the grocery shopping (60% and 15%) about saturated fats and trans fats!

  1. Saturated fats are not the enemy. Saturated fats are the pre-cursor to cholesterol (a completely natural substance in your blood) that further convert, balance, and assist your sex hormones; progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone (all three in both men and women). Hormonal imbalance is responsible for many afflictions, the least of which is the inability to lose weight.
  2. Trans fats are public enemy #1! They lower HDL cholesterol while raising LDL cholesterol levels. While warnings have received mainstream attention for 10+ years, only 40% of American shoppers say they know to avoid them!

Trans fats are not the only health risk in the broad category of fats, oils, and fat sources. Many fats can be troublesome, especially when improperly processed, selected, stored, or used for cooking in the home.

Most of us don’t know what a trans-fat is or isn’t, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s get to know our fats first.

Know Your Fats – Primer

Saturated Fats and Trans Fats

When we break food down by its fats we say it is:

  1. Saturated or unsaturated.
  2. Unsaturated fats are further broken down into as mono- or poly-unsaturated.
  3. Poly-unsaturated fats are then graded based on Omega 3 and 6 content. (We also see Omega 9 and 12 referenced).

When we look more in-depth at a food’s fat content, we learn that most foods are grossly generalized as being one type of fat but most foods – natural as well as processed – contain more than one kind of fat. The majority of us classify foods by their predominating percentage.

As you age or come across health problems in life, it becomes crucial to know the content of your food choices, moving past those gross generalizations. (I’ll show you how to do that easily at the end of the article. It is empowering and easy to learn!)

Examples of Predominating Percentages:

Corn oil is classified as a poly-unsaturated fat. Yet it contains roughly 28% monounsaturated, and 13% saturated fat – 41% other fats!

Almonds are considered to be monounsaturated fat. They contain 25% poly-unsaturated and 9% saturated.

Examples like the two above are a case in point for the importance of knowing your food.

Saturated Fat Chat

While 85% of the shoppers said they knew what saturated fat was, my guess is that the majority of those shoppers had only two thoughts in mind about saturated fats: the first being that they cause heart disease and the second that saturated fats come from animal products.

There is much more to know about saturated fats, though!

First and foremost – the theory of saturated fats causing heart disease has been debunked. (You can read much more on that topic in other articles on our website.)

Second, animal products (meat, eggs, and dairy) aren’t the only places you’ll find saturated fat. You’ve seen in the examples above it is in almonds, corn oil, and many other foods too numerous to mention.

What really blows our mind is that nearly two dozen sub-types of saturated fat exist, but no one talks about them, and practically zero research on the impact on human health for these fats have been published.

So yes, the most common sources of saturated fat include dairy products, animal fat (lard, tallow, etc.), eggs, marbling in meat, and tropical oils – but there is much more to saturated fat than the general public, and even scientists understand.

Mono-Unsaturated Fats

Foods high in monounsaturated fats are vegetation-based. These fats offer numerous health benefits – as long as we don’t tamper with them. (Hold that thought for a moment because it is an essential concept…)

  • Extra virgin olive oil is the most widely-accepted mono-unsaturated fat. (Predominating percentage only as olive oil is also 14% saturated fat and 11% poly-unsaturated.)
  • Another popular mono-unsaturated fat is canola oil (made from a rapeseed plant). It could be healthy, but by the time we’ve finished messing with it in the factory, the oil is rife with toxins and contains 4% or more trans fats!
  • Peanuts, avocados, almonds, plus other nuts and seeds, are all predominately mono-unsaturated fats.

Poly-Unsaturated Fats

Poly-unsaturated fats also enhance our health as long as they are free from over-processing.

Popular foods rich in polyunsaturated fats are some fish, chia and flax seeds, walnuts and soybeans (Omega 3); corn, pepitas, safflower,
soybeans, sunflowers, and walnuts (Omega 6).

Trans Fats

Public Enemy #1! According to the Mayo Clinic and multiple other sources and research studies, trans fats are the known culprit for raising LDL cholesterol levels while lowering HDL.

Trans fats (aka trans fatty acids) are seldom found in nature (trace amounts exist in some dairy and meat and are called ruminant trans fats). The trans fats we’re talking about today are artificial trans fats.

Trans fats are the by-product of processing fresh and healthy oils into shelf-stable fats. Poor handling and processing may also include extraction, filtration, and methods of hydrogenation.

“…the more manipulation and
processing required in making the oil,
the worse it is for you.”
–Colin E. Champ, M.D.

Heating and treating oils changes their composition, their nutritional quality, and create trans fats.


Hydrogenation of oils is the main culprit in the creation of trans fats. Just a glance at the chart above shows the change in soybean oil’s (thought to be “oh so” healthy) composition after hydrogenation.

Note that the omegas (poly-unsaturated content, mainly Omega 3 in the case of soybeans) are almost wiped clean!

This is something the food industry never admits to their consumer. The processing (pressing, cleansing process) of vegetable oils is also of little concern to consumers – but it should be a primary concern!

Every oil deviates from its natural profile after processing, as well as after hydrogenation.

Need another example?

Cottonseed oil is commonly used in commercial salad dressings and mayonnaise. After hydrogenation, it changes from 25% saturated fatty acids to 94%. Trans fat content is never listed.

Most (if not all) margarine and commercial mayonnaise contains 25% or more trans fats. Read your labels. Better yet, avoid all processed foods.

Knowing what you now know, we can assume that unless an oil has been graded as virgin or extra virgin, it has decreased in nutritional value and increased in trans fats and toxins (chemicals, coloring, and bleach compounds) during processing.

Could This Be the End of Hydrogenation?

During the hydrogenation process, hydrogen molecules are added to liquid oils. This makes an inexpensive, semi-solid, shelf-stable product (e.g, margarine, spreads, and shortening used for packaged foods).

The end product – a partially-hydrogenated oil – wreaks havoc on human health. Hydrogenation of oils have now been linked to Alzheimer’s, ADHD, atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, and more.

Thankfully this widespread treatment of oils may be short-lived.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration, USA) is working towards removing partially-hydrogenated oils from the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) food list. Their next step will be to ban it from processed foods and in restaurants.

Please don’t trust the government to protect you! You still need to check all labels of any packaged food to ensure it does not contain partially hydrogenated oils or PHOs.

Better yet, don’t trust your health to factory-made foods or restaurants that can’t or won’t answer your questions about what types of oils they use in food preparation.

Solutions & Further Study

Keep your cooking fats and oils clean. Butter from grass-fed dairy cattle. Virgin oils (olive, flaxseed, avocado, etc.) Coconut oil – classified as a ‘saturated’ fat, but it is one of the sub-types that few people talk about (a medium-chain fatty acid that acts differently in your body from other saturated fats).

To learn more about the food content of your favorite foods (natural, healthy foods), get a mobile app that breaks down the nutrition for you. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about foods and nutrition just by selecting or searching for it on your phone. We both use MyFitnessPal, but many other apps exist that will provide the same information and from the same database.

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