Good Trans Fats vs Bad Trans Fats

Yes, there are good trans fats.

Isn’t that an odd statement? It’s become practically common knowledge that trans fats are “evil.” The nutrition industry has demonized trans fats over the past few years, leading to the slow but steady elimination of partially hydrogenated oils from the food market. Good! They should be removed from our food, and they are unhealthy. But trans fats can be good for you. That is the problem with reductionist science; oversimplification of the issue at hand results in faulty conclusions. For example, take a look at this short Harvard article regarding fats. It essentially commands you to get rid of both saturated and trans fats. That’s ridiculous! Saturated fats are an essential macronutrient – you couldn’t survive without them.

Similarly, you can’t just get rid of trans fats from your diet. Trans fats is the term that refers to any fats with a strucuture similar to the carbon chain on the right:The type of trans fatty acids produced via industrial hydrogenation are bad for you, absolutely. That seems to be a fairly concrete fact. And it shouldn’t be surprising – it’s a type of fat that rarely if ever is seen in nature – we haven’t evolved to effectively process it. As a result, it gums up our arteries, resulting in increased  chances of heart disease.

However, there IS a trans fatty acid that occurs in nature. Conjugated linoleic acid – CLA – is a trans fat that has been associated with lower rates of cancer and decreased storage of body fat. To be fair, there are also studies that do not find positive benefits. It seems silly, however, to group CLA in with partially hydrogenated oils by using the overarching term “trans fats.”

Essentially, demonizing “trans fats” instead of partially hydrogenated oils – or at the very least, failing to make that distinction – is a reductionist error that will result in the careless elimination of another ‘good’ macronutrient from our diets.


More info in this fairly neutrally-written powerpoint. Other sources linked above.


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