What Is the Difference Between Trans Fat & Saturated Fat?

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Fat is a major source of energy and aids the body in absorbing vitamins. It's important for proper growth, development and keeping us healthy. But there are good fats and fats you should avoid. Saturated and trans fats are both unhealthy kinds of fats that can increase your risk of heart disease. Although they are similar in this respect, there are other major differences between them.

Saturated Fatty Acids (Saturated Fats)

  • Saturated fats are found in foods like butter, eggs, solid shortening, lard, whole milk, red meat, chocolate, solid shortening, palm and palm kernel oil, and coconut oil. Saturated fats occur naturally in foods and occur naturally in our bodies.

Trans Fatty Acids (Trans Fats)

  • Trans fatty acids are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. They are found in shortening, margarine, crackers, cookies, snack foods and other foods made with partially hydrogenated oils. Unlike saturated fats, trans fats do not form naturally in foods, nor do they occur naturally in our bodies. Trans fats are formed during food processing when oils are made into solid fats to add flavor and prolong the shelf life of processed foods.

Saturated Fats and Trans Fats Affect Cholesterol Levels DIfferently

  • Although both saturated and trans fats are unhealthy fats, some doctors consider trans fats to be worse than sat fats. They affect the body in different ways. Saturated fats increase the good cholesterol levels (high-density lipoproteins or HDLs) in your body while trans fats lower good cholesterol.

    However both saturated and trans fats increase bad cholesterol levels (low-density lipoproteins or LDLs). This is why trans fats are so dangerous. They increase the bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol, increasing the risk of artery hardening and narrowing, and increasing your risk of heart disease.

Trans Fats Lower Insulin and Increase C-Reactive Protein

  • Trans fats are especially bad for people with diabetes. Trans fats prevent insulin from binding in the blood, a problem for diabetics. Saturated fats don't affect insulin levels.

    Trans fats also increase C-reactive protein levels in the blood that can create inflammation in the arteries. Saturated fats do not increase these levels.

Trans Fats Suppress the Immune System

  • Trans fats can weaken your immune system, setting you up for more infections and illnesses. Saturated fats, on the other hand actually help to fight bacteria and viruses. Again, because saturated fats occur naturally in our bodies, they are important for certain bodily functions. Trans fats are unnatural and are not required.

Trans Fats Affect Metabolic Enzymes

  • Trans fats reduce the effectiveness of enzymes like delta-6-desaturase which can negatively affect your metabolism (Reference 4). Saturated fats do not affect the enzymes in the body. This is because saturated fats occur naturally in the body.

You Should Avoid Both Trans and Saturated Fats

  • Some doctors believe that trans fats are worse for you than saturated fats. But you should avoid consuming both of them. If for no other reason they will promote weight gain.

    Instead you should eat foods rich in unsaturated fats, to prevent heart disease. Unsaturated fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, do not raise bad cholesterol and are good for you in moderate amounts.

References

  • Photo Credit Mykl Roventine, Flickr.com
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