Trans Fats Increase Your Stroke Risk

We all know that fatty food is bad for you. But recently, it has become clear that not every type of fat in your diet is equal and, surprisingly, not all fat is bad for you. A particular kind of fat in your food, called trans fat, has been strongly associated with an elevated stroke risk. Trans fats, in fact, have not been found to have any benefit to your health at all. If you are interested in getting healthy or staying healthy, it is definitely worth your while to know what trans fats are and to learn how you can avoid them.

Where do trans fats come from?

Trans fats are an artificially produced component of popular pre-packaged foods and commercially prepared deep fried foods. They are widespread because they are practical and efficient for food manufacturers. The dangers of trans fats have only been recognized relatively recently. This increased understanding of the negative effects of trans fats has prompted new regulations requiring companies that package foods to place an indication on the nutritional label acknowledging that they contain trans fats if they have more than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. In response to growing public awareness of the dangers of trans fats, many food packages now state, 'no trans fats,' somewhere on the label to signal to customers that they contain little or no trans fats. Another identifying name for trans fats on food labels is ‘partially hydrogenated oils.’ This name refers to the chemical process by which trans fats are produced. 

However, food that is not pre-packaged can also be a source of trans fats if the cooking methods, for example, involves deep frying using partially hydrogenated oils.  Generally, these foods do not come in a package and often they do not have easily accessible nutritional information on the menu. Partially hydrogenated cooking oil lasts longer than un-hydrogenated cooking oil. Partially hydrogenated oils are often used in restaurants because they make it possible to fry several batches of food in the same oil without having to replace the oil, which is convenient for deep-frying large quantities of food in a short amount of time. 

There are also naturally occurring trans fats in animal products, and, in moderation, those kinds of naturally occurring trans fats are not believed to be harmful to the body.

What are trans fats?

Trans fats are fats that have a chemical structure that technically categorizes them as unsaturated fats. In general, unsaturated fats in food have been considered a healthier kind of fat than saturated fats. To learn more about saturated fats, unsaturated fats and cooking oils, read here. 

The accepted knowledge that unsaturated fats are healthier than saturated fats makes the discovery that trans-fats are the unhealthiest type of fat particularly complicated and confusing. While trans-fats are indeed unsaturated fats, trans fats have a different structure than other unsaturated fats because they are shaped in a straight configuration, instead of the 'bent' configuration typical of other unsaturated fats. Our bodies are not able to metabolize artificially produced trans fats as easily as other fats. And trans fats and have been linked with stroke, heart disease and cancer. 

How do trans fats increase stroke risk?

There is an increase in death from all causes associated with a high intake of trans fats.

Higher intake of trans fats and higher blood levels of trans fats have been consistently associated with an increased stroke rate through data collected in multiple large population studies at several different locations involving thousands of people over the past years.

There are a few ways that trans fats contribute to your stroke risk.

* One of the ways is by increasing inflammation throughout the body, which predisposes you to stroke-causing blood clots. When trans fats are introduced into the human body, the level of inflammation rises dramatically. Inflammation triggers a cascade of events that leads to heart disease and stroke.

* Another way that trans fats cause stroke is by directly damaging the inner lining of the blood vessels in the heart and in the brain, which leads to heart disease and cerebrovascular disease, raising the risk of stroke.

* And a third way that trans fats lead to stroke is by raising your level of harmful LDL cholesterol while decreasing your level of healthy HDL cholesterol. Learn more about cholesterol and your stroke risk here.

The investigations into how trans fats affect the body are relatively new, and more information will likely emerge in the next few years.

Can you measure your blood trans fat levels?

So far, there is not a standard blood test that you can have to measure the level of trans fat in your blood. The current scientific understanding is that is unhealthy to get trans fats through your diet, particularly if you eat high amounts of trans fats. But there is not a simple way to test for buildup of this type of damage or to test for the concentration or quantity of trans fats in your body.

What can you do?

The most definitive way to eliminate artificially produced trans fats from your diet is to completely avoid eating pre-packaged foods, processed foods, deep fried foods and to stop using cooking oils containing trans fats. This can be an enormously difficult transition if you frequently eat those kinds of foods, which most people do. A good start could be to eliminate one of these categories at a time from your diet, and to replace it with brain-healthy and tasty alternatives. 

Cooking oil

The easiest way to avoid trans fats is to to begin by not using cooking oils containing trans fats when you prepare food. This can be achieved by reading the labels on cooking oils and spreads before you buy them. Opting for oils with no trans fats (also called hydrogenated fats) is important.  If you can also steer away from saturated fats, that would be an added bonus. This step is unlikely to change the taste or enjoyment of the food that you prepare. It is also best not to reuse cooking oil.

Pre-packaged food, processed food

These items are convenient and last for a long time. They are generally heavy in calories, which makes them more satisfying than fruit or vegetables. Because they do not need refrigeration, they are easier to stock up than fresh food. Steering away from calorie-laden convenience foods requires a change in mindset and requires the effort to deliberately shop for healthier items. Fresh fruit and veggies are not as filling as packaged convenience foods because they are lower in calories. This change in your diet can also help if you need to lose weight. However, if you do not need to lose weight, then you may need to replace the calories of packaged foods once you cut back or eliminate them from your diet. Nuts and dried fruit offer a healthy way to get the convenience and hunger satisfaction similar to that of pre-packaged snack foods.

Deep fried food

Avoiding deep fried food also requires deliberate effort if this is a favorite for you. A similar culinary experience that is less unhealthy includes baking food coated with light breading if the breading is what most appeals to you.

Increase the antioxidants in your diet

Antioxidants are naturally occurring chemicals present in fresh fruits and vegetables. They have been shown to reverse disease, including the heart disease and cerebrovascular disease that can lead to stroke. Because trans fats are so closely linked to stroke-causing vascular disease, antioxidants are the natural way to reverse your stroke risk while avoiding the disease-causing trans fats.


Overall, giving up trans fats does require a deliberate effort because foods containing trans fats are so prevalent. Some countries restrict the use of trans fats. While trans fats are permitted in the United States, recent labeling regulations make it easier to avoid them. Food manufacturers are making a concerted effort to reduce or eliminate the use of trans fats, which can help you as you make efforts to reduce your intake of trans fats.






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