Trans Fats Increase Your Stroke Risk

How to Avoid Them

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Trans fat is a type of fat that has been strongly associated with an elevated risk of stroke, heart disease, and cancer.

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. Artificially produced 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.

What Trans Fats Are

Another name for trans fats is ‘partially hydrogenated oils.’ This name refers to a chemical process by which trans fats are produced, which involves adding hydrogen to the oils.

Trans fats have a chemical structure that technically categorizes them as unsaturated fats. In general, unsaturated fats in food have been considered healthier than saturated fats.

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, they 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, which are referred to as cis fats. Our bodies are not able to metabolize artificially produced trans fats as easily as other fats.

Where Trans Fats Come From

There are 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. Trans fats are also an artificially produced component of popular pre-packaged foods and commercially prepared deep-fried foods. Trans fats have been widespread in packaged snacks because they are practical and efficient for food manufacturers.

Food that is not pre-packaged can also be a source of trans fats if the cooking methods involve deep frying, using partially hydrogenated oils, or reusing the oil. 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 oils last longer than un-hydrogenated cooking oil, so they are often used in restaurants because they make it possible to fry several batches of food without having to replace the oil, which is convenient for deep-frying large quantities of food in a short amount of time. 

How Trans Fats Increase Stroke Risk

There is an increase in death from all causes associated with a high intake of trans fats. Eating foods that contain trans fats has been consistently associated with an increased stroke rate. The blood level of trans fats has been measured in research studies, and high blood levels are also associated with a high stroke rate.

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.

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

Measuring 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 in high amounts. But there is not a simple way to test for the buildup of this type of damage or to test for the concentration or quantity of trans fats in your body.

Lowering Your Trans Fats

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 read package labels that can identify trans fats.

Cooking Oil

The easiest way to avoid trans fats is to begin by not using cooking oils containing trans fats when you prepare food. It is also best not to reuse cooking oil.

Deep-Fried Food

Avoiding deep-fried food also requires deliberate effort if this is a favorite for you. The process of frying in oil at high temperatures produces trans fats, even if you fry stroke preventing foods such as seafood.

Pre-Packaged Food, Processed Food

These items are convenient and last for a long time. The dangers of trans fats have only been recognized relatively recently. This increased understanding of the negative effects of trans fats prompted 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 consumers that they contain little or no trans fats.

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 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 disease-causing trans fats.

A Word From Verywell

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, and, while trans fats are permitted in the United States, there have been recent restrictions.

A 2017 study evaluated hospital admissions for strokes and heart attacks after a restriction was initiated in selected counties in New York State. The results showed that the populations with the restrictions had fewer hospital admissions for strokes and heart attacks after the restrictions took place.

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