Which Foods Contain Trans Fats?

Trans fats are an unhealthy type of fat found in some foods. While trans fats can be found naturally in some products from ruminant animals such as cows, most trans fats in recent decades have come from industrially produced partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs). PHOs have been widely used in products such as margarine, spreads, and vegetable shortening.

However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined in 2015 that PHOs are not among the ingredients that are “generally recognized as safe.” FDA gave manufacturers several years to find alternatives, finally setting a compliance date of January 1, 2021.

Because of FDA regulation of PHOs, they are less common than they used to be.

Some studies have suggested that both natural and artificial trans fats may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease by increasing your LDL cholesterol and lowering your HDL cholesterol. However, the American Heart Association says, “There have not been sufficient studies to determine whether these naturally occurring trans fats have the same bad effects on cholesterol levels as trans fats that have been industrially manufactured.”

There is also some evidence that artificial trans fats may induce inflammation, which may also contribute to cardiovascular disease. Because of this, healthcare professionals recommend limiting your intake of foods with trans fats.

This article explains what trans fats are, foods that contain trans fats, and ways to reduce your intake.

woman holding deep friend chicken drumstick
 boonchai wedmakawand / Getty Images

What Are Trans Fats?

Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat. Our bodies cannot properly break down the structure of trans fats during digestion.

Trans fats that occur naturally in animal products are not considered harmful, but when these types of fats are added to processed food, they may cause health problems.

The trans fats to watch for are the ones artificially produced and placed in prepackaged foods or commercially prepared deep-fried foods. These trans fats are introduced during cooking or during the manufacturing process to help extend a product’s shelf life. They also help some foods taste more satisfying.

Foods Containing Trans Fats

Trans fats in commercially processed foods are most commonly introduced through PHOs during the manufacturing process. The following foods may be made with partially hydrogenated oils and should be avoided, due to their ability to raise cholesterol and your risk of heart disease:

  • Fast foods—including tater tots, and French fries
  • Some spreads—such as margarine spreads or peanut butter
  • Some snack foods—such as chips, crackers, and cookies
  • Fried foods—including fried chicken, onion rings, and nuggets
  • Nondairy creamer
  • Pre-prepared cake frostings
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Commercially pre-prepared products, such as pie crusts, pizza dough, and cookie dough
  • Some pastries, donuts, and pies

The FDA effectively banned companies from manufacturing foods with trans fats, but if you have food that was processed prior to 2021 on your shelf, those items might still contain artificially produced trans fats.

While restaurants, including fast food giants like McDonald’s, and bakeries have reduced or eliminated their use of trans fat ingredients, trans fats can still develop during the frying process. So, you should watch for any type of deep-fried food.

How You Can Reduce the Amount of Trans Fats in Your Diet

The American Heart Association recommends limiting—and even avoiding—the consumption of trans fats in a healthy diet. Although most food products should be free of trans fats, it’s possible that they still lurk in some types of foods. To protect your heart and overall health, keep these tips in mind:

Checking Nutrition Label

Check the food labels for trans fats. Because of the risk that artificial trans fats pose in increasing your risk of heart disease, the FDA began requiring food manufacturers to list the amount of trans fats per serving on food package labels in 2006.

Labels are required to list “trans fat” or “trans” on a separate line under the saturated fat line. However, if the amount of trans fats per serving is less than 0.5 grams, food manufacturers may note that the food is “not a significant source of trans fat.”

Fried Food

Avoiding foods that may contain trans fats from cooking is important. These foods are also high in calories and saturated fat—both of which can have a negative impact on your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Federal Register. Final determination regarding partially hydrogenated oils.

  2. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Facts about trans fats.

  3. Food and Drug Administration. Trans fat.

  4. Song J, Park J, Jung J, et al. Analysis of trans fat in edible oils with cooking process. Toxicol Res. 2015;31(3):307-312. doi:10.5487/tr.2015.31.3.307

  5. American Heart Association. The skinny on fats.

  6. Food and Drug Administration. Small entity compliance guide: trans fatty acids in nutrition labeling, nutrient content claims, and health claims.

By Jennifer Moll, PharmD
Jennifer Moll, MS, PharmD, is a pharmacist actively involved in educating patients about the importance of heart disease prevention.