Packaged foods used to contain butter and other animal fats, but when scientists learned how unhealthy those were, manufacturers needed a replacement. They needed a saturated fat that was solid at room temperature, which was shelf-stable and did not go rancid.
Trans fat (vegetable oils which were artificially saturated by bubbling hydrogen through them) fit the bill and were touted as the healthy alternative to butter and lard.
Unfortunately, trans fats have turned out to be even more dangerous than the fats they replaced, contributing to heart disease even when eaten in small amounts. Some countries and cities have banned their use altogether, and they have seen heart attack rates drop significantly.
Trans fats must now be labeled, but unfortunately, foods containing 0.5 mg per serving or less can still be labeled as containing zero trans fat. Even these small amounts add up and are dangerous, since people usually eat more than one serving, and typically ingest several foods that contain them.
Fortunately, if you read the ingredient list and find the words “partially hydrogenated” on the label, you’ll know they are there and you can avoid them. Don’t be tempted to say “oh, it’s just a tiny bit. How can that be bad for me?” These fats really are bad news and we should avoid them completely.
Trans fats are slowly, but surely being removed from food by manufacturers, but what should they be replaced with? Enter palm and coconut oils! In many ways both of these are unhealthier than the fats they are replacing. Read about palm oil in Dr. Allen’s article above and learn about the dangers of coconut oil in Dr. Allen’s most popular video (more than 11,000 views!)