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the truth about trans fats


Trans Fats Cell Membrane

Edward Lich – Nootdorp/Nederland – Pixabay

“The National Institutes of Health has funded over $100 million on three studies at Harvard University over the past 20 years —- the results of which unequivocally prove that the risk of Cardiovascular Disease correlates to the consumption of Trans Fats [and not Saturated Fats].”  From the Foreword to Judith Shaw’s 2004 book called Trans Fats; The Hidden Killer in our Food.  “We were told by the experts then [the 1950’s and 1960’s] that the epidemic proportions of Coronary Heart Disease could be halted if the country united against butter, red meat, and eggs.  However, funding for the research that unequivocally seemed to ‘prove’ the connection between Heart Disease and diets high in saturated fats were companies such as Proctor & Gamble (Crisco), Wesson and Mazola (Vegetable Oil), and Fleishmann’s (Margarine) — the very food giants who stood to benefit most from their conclusions.”    IbidIt is interesting to note that the campaign against Saturated Fats was not only supported by organizations like the American Heart Association, but by our government as well.
Although there have been hundreds (probably thousands) of studies on this topic over the past several decades, there is still lots of questionable information floating around on fats.  One of the biggest misconceptions is that as far as your health is concerned, Trans Fats (a completely man made, artificial, substance), is essentially the same thing as Saturated Fat.  I am going to show you that this is simply not the case.  I am also going to show you that when it comes to dietary fats, Trans Fats, and not Saturated Fats are the chief destroyer of health.  Buckle up and enjoy the ride.


As I said in the previous paragraph, Trans Fats are completely man made. They are a cheap substitute for the real thing.  Vegetable Oils (corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, etc) that have been treated with chemical solvents used to bleach them white and deodorize them, are then “Hydrogenated” by forcing hydrogen atoms into them at high heat and pressure.  Because the Hydrogenation is never “complete”, it is usually referred to as “Partially Hydrogenated” (people with backgrounds in organic chemistry will understand this, but it is not critical for understanding how bad Trans Fats are).  This means that officially the fat is not “Saturated” (even though it is a solid at room temperature).

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, German scientists developed a method of driving hydrogen atoms into vegetable oils (or sometimes into whale oil / fish oil) to convert them to a solid.  The process of “Hydrogenation” spread to various parts of Europe until Procter & Gamble bought the US rights and set up a factory here in America.  The name of their 1911 product?  One that you likely grew up with —- Crisco.  Prior to this, people ate and cooked with lard, tallow, pork fat, and butter (or even bear “grease”).  What is the common denominator here?  They’re all animal fats.  Please note that obesity and heart disease were both extremely rare at this time. 

As new sources of oils were found to hydrogenate (soybean oil was essentially a byproduct of animal feed until they started hydrogenating it), the hydrogenation industry literally exploded.  Women were given free cookbooks from Proctor & Gamble that were full of recipes which relied on Crisco.  Shortening was touted as “healthy” because it was made from “vegetables”.  And as the formulas were tweaked, it was discovered that Vegetable Shortening such as Crisco could actually produce foods that were thought by many to be superior in both taste and texture to those made with butter or lard.  And no one could argue that Trans Fats provided foods with a longer shelf life — something that the food manufacturers were quite interested in —- particularly in the days before the Interstate Highway System and widespread refrigeration.

By the 1920’s, animal fats were being largely phased out of the fledgling processed food industry as well as commercial bakeries.  By the 1960’s, Hydrogenated Vegetable oils had almost completely replaced animal fats across the board.  If you are old enough to remember, much of this was due to the suggestion that animal fats were the cause of all sorts of health problems, including heart disease.  You probably also remember that one of the selling points of these products was that they are made from healthy “Vegetables” (Vegetable Shortening).

Even though one of the most prestigious medical journals on the planet (The Lancet) suggested a relationship between hydrogenated oils and heart disease back in 1956, the information was largely buried / ignored, and life went on as usual.  As people bought into the whole “unsaturated fats are healthy / saturated fats are unhealthy” myth (HERE), the hydrogenation industry exploded.   However, by the late 1980’s the tide was beginning to turn.  Researchers were hollering for more funding for studies; and as the money and studies poured forth, the Trans Fat empire began to collapse, albeit slowly.

The earlier studies showed that as many as 20,000 Americans per year were dying as a direct result of dietary Trans Fats in the form of hydrogenated oils.  By 1994, studies had upped that number to over 30,000 death per year.  Twelve years later, a study in the The New England Journal of Medicine raised the number of estimated annual deaths directly due to Trans Fats nearly three times to over 100,000, saying that, “On a per-calorie basis, trans fats appear to increase the risk of Coronary Heart Disease more than any other macronutrient, conferring a substantially increased risk at low levels of consumption.”    I know what you’re thinking; if Trans Fats are so bad, could someone please tell me why?  It all has to do with the Cell Membrane.


Trans Fats Disease


Every single cell in your body (all 100 Trillion of them) are surrounded by Cell Membranes.  In order to have good health, you must have properly functioning Cell Membranes.  Cell membranes also give individual organs and tissues their unique shape and consistency.   For Cell Membranes to function properly, you need to eat a diet loaded with good fats.  You’ll see why in a moment.  Just remember that the kinds of fats and oils that you consume will dictate what sorts of fats and oils make up your cell membranes.   I realize that purposely consuming any dietary fat is frowned upon by large numbers of supposed “experts”, but without quality fats in your diet, serious illnesses will ensue.  Some of the functions of Cell Membranes include…….

  • PROTECTING INDIVIDUAL CELLS FROM THEIR SURROUNDINGS:  This is important for keeping bad things out of the cell and allowing good things to enter into the cells.


  • CELLULAR SIGNALING AND COMMUNICATION:  The cell membranes not only transmit nerve-like messages via the fact that they are electrically charged (see below), the fluidity and mobility of the membrane has the ability to conduct / transmit messages.  This should remind you of one of the properties of FASCIA.


  • IT IS AN ANCHOR SYSTEM FOR ALL SORTS OF STRUCTURES BOTH INSIDE AND OUTSIDE OF THE CELL:  This sort of goes hand in hand with the next bullet point.  Cell Membranes provide cohesion so that groups of similar cells can group together into functional units, tissues, and even organs.


  • CELL MEMBRANES HELP GIVE INDIVIDUAL CELLS AND TISSUES THEIR UNIQUE SHAPE:  Without Cell Membranes, each cell would effectively function like an amoeba.  Some people I know would barely notice this.  Trans Fats stiffen Cell Membranes and leave them less flexible and fluid.  Although this sounds harmless enough, it is the basis of the disease process we will look at momentarily.

Cell Membranes are said to be “Selectively Permeable”.  In English, this means that the cells choose what they allow to enter into them or go out of them, in relationship to what their individual needs are.  There are several methods of transporting things across the Cell Membrane.  We will explore some of these related to disease processes when we specifically deal with the Cell Membrane in just a moment.



  • THE CELL MEMBRANES HAVE CHANNELS MADE OF PROTEIN THAT ALLOW FOOD TO BE TRANSPORTED INTO THE CELL:  The opposite is true as well.  The cells expend energy to pump certain substances back and forth across the cell membrane.  This also occurs in a different manner via processes of known as endocytosis (moving things into the cell) and exocytosis (moving things out of the cell) respectively.  Instead of substances being pumped through channels, they are engulfed like something from the movie, “The Blob”. Then the whole thing is moved across the cell membrane and the contents “spit out” where they need to be.

Consuming Trans Fats in the form of Partially Hydrogenated Oils is a veritable death sentence.  Oh, don’t get me wrong —- it’s not like they will kill you as soon as they hit your mouth.  Instead, they’ll do in a slower and more subtle fashion.   It is now known that consuming these man made fats dramatically changes both the structure and the function of the Cell Membranes.    This means that man made Trans Fats can kill you in a slow, painful manner (Diabetes) — or all at once (Heart Attack).  Follow along as I show you some things that just might save your life, while giving you a better quality of living in the process. 

As you saw in the pictures above, Cell Membranes are composed of two layers of phospholipids that are positioned opposite each other.  Their attracted-to-water (hydrophillic) tails face each other so that the water-repelling (hydrophobic) heads create a barrier-like outside edge of the cell.  This allows the cell to block substances from entering the cell —– unless the cell decides it needs to let them in. When it all works like it should, life is peachy.  When it does not, health can go south in a hurry.

Trans Fats create what some experts refer to as “Stupid Cell Membranes”.   Allow me to explain.  As more and more Trans Fats are incorporated into Cell Membranes, they lose both their flexibility and ability transmit and receive messages.  After this, they begin to fail at being “Selectively Permeable”.  On one hand, they start letting things into the cells that should not be there, while preventing things from coming in that should be in the cell.  On the other hand, they keep things inside the cell that should be let out (i.e. metabolic waste products) and let things out that should stay in.

One of the chief ways that this happens is that the specific fats and oils that make up the “lipid bilayer” (Cell Membrane) must be able to respond to their environment, and respond quickly — almost instantaneously.  One of the reasons your body can metabolically react like it does to things like hormones, neurotransmitters, inflammatory mediators, nutritional compounds, drugs, etc, is because of the fluidity of the Cell Membranes.  Take away that fluidity and the body reacts in completely different ways.  As you might imagine, the less flexible your Cell Membranes become, the more prone to diseases you are.


“[Trans Fats have] no safe level of human consumption.  [They have a] tolerable upper intake level of zero.”  From a 2002 report put out by the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Science.
Once you understand what Cell Membranes do, it becomes easy to understand some of the disease processes associated with Trans Fats and their effects on Cell Membranes.  One of the first things you must understand about Trans Fats is that they cause massive amounts of INFLAMMATION.  It is critical that you understand that Inflammation is the name given to a specific group of normal immune system that are being produced and released in too-large amounts.  Inflammation is not local swelling —- even though the two terms are frequently used synonymously. 

Because Systemic Inflammation has been strongly associated with dozens of disease processes as well as dramatic increases in C-Reactive Protein (CRP), it is advised to learn what it is and how to avoid it.  We know that Trans Fats are one of the major sources of Inflammations for most Americans.  In fact, several governmental organizations have issued statements regarding the fact that there is no level of the Partially Hydrogenated (artificial / man made) Trans Fats that can be safely consumed in our diets.

  • HEART DISEASE / CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE:  There have been dozens of studies linking dietary fat to Heart Disease.  Be aware that while the evidence for a causal link between Trans Fats and Heart Disease is overwhelming, the evidence for a causal link between Saturated Fats and Heart Disease is not.  We can see this in a blood test by watching for an increase in the ratio of bad cholesterol to good. Remember also that although Trans Fats contain no cholesterol themselves, they jack the ratio of the LDL (bad) to the HDL (good).


  • IMMUNE SYSTEM FUNCTION:  Studies have shown that Trans Fats stimulate the part of the Immune System that deals with Inflammation.  Look at the earlier link.  How many diseases are associated with Inflammation?  Too many to count.  Interestingly enough, there is a growing body of researchers (see previous bullet point) who believe that high cholesterol has little to do with dietary cholesterol.  Instead they believe that Cholesterol is the body’s “patch” to fix the damage that occurs in arteries caused by —- you guessed it —– Inflammation.


  • ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE:  Although this one is also being linked to high blood sugar and HFCS, the Archives of Neurology tied it to Trans Fats in a study that was published almost 10 years ago to the day. 


  • CANCER:  The first studies on Trans Fats and cancer occurred back in the 1940’s.  Since then the consensus of the mainstream medical community is that there is either no link, or the link is minimal.  However, there are numerous scientists and studies from around the world linking the two.   Stop for a moment and think.  It is only logical that impairing the integrity of the cell’s guardian membrane would have consequences as far as cancer is concerned.


  • DIABETES:  Stupid Cell Membranes have been shown by studies not to function optimally as far as allowing glucose in and out of the cells.  Trans Fats have been shown to alter the effects of both Insulin and Insulin Receptors (Insulin Resistance); a precursor to / component of Type II Diabetes. 


  • OBESITY:  Trans Fats cause obesity —- even in the absence of caloric excess.  Like Cortisol, their intake is shown to cause most of the excess fat to be deposited in the abdominal area.  Abdominal Obesity is associated with far more health issues than generalized weight gain.


  • LIVER FUNCTION:  The Liver is your body’s chemist.  Trans Fats alter the way that your body metabolizes certain fats.  Be aware that the most common cause of mild to moderately raised levels of liver enzymes is a fatty liver, and a fatty livers occur most commonly in people who are obese.


  • FEMALE INFERTILITY:  Just a 2% increase in Dietary Trans Fats caused female infertility to skyrocket. 


  • DEPRESSION:  Studies have shown that Trans Fats lower brain levels of DHA.  DHA is the two active components of PFGO.  Note that dozens of scientific studies have linked low brain levels of DHA to Major Depressive Disorder (DEPRESSION).

For someone who is GLUTEN SENSITIVE, they will often feel better almost immediately after cutting wheat and wheat products out of their diet, the same cannot usually be said for Trans Fats.  This has to do with the fact that once Trans Fats are incorporated into the Cell Membranes, they tend to stick around indefinitely.  If you cut Trans Fats from your diet and dramatically increase the intake of healthy fats (including “clean / unprocessed” animal fats), it will take time for the Cell Membranes to regenerate themselves.  How long, I’m not sure.  But don’t expect for all of these problems to go away overnight just because you changed your diet.


Dr. Spencer Proctor, an Associate Professor at the University of Alberta and director of their Metabolic and Cardiovascular Diseases Laboratory, had some interesting things to say about naturally occurring Trans Fats.  It turns out that these are not only not bad for you, they are actually quite good for you.   Dr. Proctor and his team published a study in last September’s issue of Advances in Nutrition outlining their findings.  It seems that naturally occurring Trans Fats found in real meat and dairy products are dramatically different than the artificial Trans Fats that are the result of the hydrogenation process.  Just be aware that these naturally occurring Trans Fats are not labeled any differently than the man made products. 


“Unlike butter, the manufactured hydrogenated vegetable fat in crackers, and cookies, precooked french fries, and pot pies, buns, muffins, salad dressings, chicken legs, and fish filets, ensured that the product that started out in New Jersey would still be fresh when it got to Washington state and for months and years to come.  It would preserve foods shipped across the seas.”  Judith Shaw from Trans Fats; The Hidden Killer in our Foods.
Trans Fats seem to be everywhere.  And if you’ll stick around to the end, you’ll see how the government has passed legislation that actually “hides” them in foods.  When you look at a food label, don’t just look at the “Nutrition Facts”, make absolutely sure that you check the list of ingredients for Hydrogenated or Partially Hydrogenated Oils.   The foods that you have to particularly watch out for include the following…..

  • Commercial French Fries
  • Commercial Peanut Butter
  • Almost Anything that is Commercially Battered and Fried (Fried Chicken)
  • Baked Goods, Including Pie Crusts, Donuts, Cake Mixes, Muffins, Pancake / Waffle Mixes, Cookies, Biscuits, Sweet Rolls, Crackers, Pretzels, etc
  • Many Breakfast Cereals
  • Margarine
  • Vegetable Shortening, Cake Frosting
  • Non-Dairy Creamers & Fast Food Milk Shakes
  • Microwave or Movie Theater Popcorn, Potato Chips, Corn Chips
  • Fast Food / Snack Food / Candy Bars
  • Numerous Packaged or Processed Foods

How can we determine whether or not Trans Fats are present in a food or not?  Although Trans Fats were required to be labeled as such by a federal law passed in 2006 (See Below), things are never as easy as they should be.  Remember how we learned earlier that Trans Fats are made up of oils that have been “Hydrogenated”?   It used to be that you simply looked for the numbers of grams of Partially Hydrogenated Fats on a food label.  With the new law, all we need to do is look for the numbers of grams of Trans Fats — sort of. 

As unbelievable as it may sound to you (sarcasm is intended), when the government created the regulations to disclose the amount of Trans Fats to the general public via food labels, they created a loophole — one that in many cases you could drive a Mack truck through.  They said that as long as a food does not have at least .5 grams of Trans Fats per serving, it does not need to be labeled as containing Trans Fat.   Think about it this way; many of the foods that contain copious amounts of Trans Fats also happen to be foods that come in very small serving sizes.  Let me explain.  A certain cookie may have .49 grams of Trans Fat per serving.  But if a serving size is two small cookies, and the average person eats a dozen at a sitting, they are getting a serious jolt of Trans Fat —– nearly 6 grams —- even though the “Government Approved” food label tells you that these cookies contain 0 grams of Trans Fats.  Make sure that you not only read the “Nutrition Facts” part of the label (below), but the “List of Ingredients” as well.  Again, just look for the words Hydrogenated or Partially Hydrogenated.


As the use of Crisco hit critical mass in the 1950’s, DR. ANCEL KEYS was publishing research on the link between dietary fat and Coronary Heart Disease.  Although his studies were flawed, this ultimately led the American Heart Association to declare a state of emergency in the United States.  It also led to the “Fat Free” craze of the late 80’s and early 90’s, which was really a massive increase in the consumption of processed starches, carbs, and sugar.  Although we were told that since dietary fat was the thing that would make us fat, we could lose weight and maintain that weight by eating a starch & grain-based diet, the facts bore out something 180 degrees opposite.  When we started eating “healthier” foods, Heart Disease went off the chart, DIABETES numbers exploded exponentially, and OBESITY grew to proportions that could only be considered out of control. 
Since the early 1970s, for instance, Americans’ average fat intake has dropped from over 40% of total calories to 34%; average serum cholesterol levels have dropped as well. But no compelling evidence suggests that these decreases have improved health. Although heart disease death rates have dropped–and public health officials insist low-fat diets are partly responsible–the incidence of heart disease does not seem to be declining, as would be expected if lower fat diets made a difference. This was the conclusion, for instance, of a 10-year study of heart disease mortality published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1998, which suggested that death rates are declining largely because doctors are treating the disease more successfully. AHA statistics agree: Between 1979 and 1996, the number of medical procedures for heart disease increased from 1.2 million to 5.4 million a year. “I don’t consider that this disease category has disappeared or anything close to it,” says one AHA statistician.   Food Researcher Gary Taubes from a 2003 internet article.
It is interesting to note that although heart disease, like obesity, has always been with us, the numbers began an ascent through the stratosphere starting in the early part of the 20th century.  It is probably only coincidental that these problems and numerous others occur at the same time that both Trans Fats and processed foods were becoming both popular and affordable.   Yeah right —– coincidental.

And if you simply followed logic, you would have to assume that dramatically cutting back on fat and it’s 9 calories per gram as opposed to 4 calories per gram for both carbs and protein, would solve the problem.  Only it hasn’t solved the problem.  It’s made it worse.  This is because most doctors do not have as good of an understanding of the relationship between the Endocrine System and weight as they should have (HERE).  And even though study after study is showing that animal fats (particularly fats from non-obese, clean animals) is not the pariah it was once thought to be, we are still bombarded by experts telling us to further cut down our intake of fat (Fuhrman, Pritikin, Ornish, McDougal, etc).  Here are a few simple ways to get healthy fats into your system while avoiding the baddies.

  • IF IT CONTAINS HYDROGENATED OR PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED FATS, DON’T BUY IT OR PUT IT IN YOUR MOUTH:  It’s not rocket science folks.  Learn to read labels as though your life depends on it —- mainly because it does.  Just look at the list I created for you and avoid those foods as well.  When you eat Trans Fats, you are changing your Cell Membranes for the worse.  Unfortunately, it takes far longer to change them back.  A key fact you must understand about these artificial fats is that they have a half-life of about 50 days.  This means that after 100 days, 25% of the Trans Fats in the Krispy Kreme you ate just over 3 months ago is still part of your cell membranes!

  • USE BUTTER INSTEAD OF MARGARINE:  It never ceases to amaze me how many crappy spreads out there tout themselves as “Heart Healthy” when they know darn well that this is far from the case.   For Pete’s sake, use BUTTER!

  • USE COCONUT OIL TO COOK WITH & EVOO FOR SALAD DRESSINGS:  Remember that it is possible to turn good fats into Trans Fats via heat.  Don’t believe the hooey that certain celebrity doctors are saying about Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Fuhrman says it’s on the short list of “worst foods”).  It is the best salad dressing base I have found.  Stay away from crappy “VEGETABLE OILS“.

  • EAT GOOD FATS FROM A WIDE VARIETY OF SOURCES:  Nuts, wild fish, raw dairy (for those not sensitive), and even SATURATED FAT from “clean” meats are all fine to eat, and will provide you with quality fats to build healthy Cell Membranes with. 


Trans Fats are used in today’s foods for several reasons.  They are cheap to produce, they have an almost indefinite shelf life, and since they have no odor or flavor of their own,  and they can be flavored any way the food manufacture chooses — from butter to curry to smoke to chocolate.  They also add a creamy or crisp texture to baked goods — depending what is wanted —- without crumbling or falling apart.  But when the dust clears, it all boils down to money.  Until consumers understand how darn bad these artificial fats are, the industry is going to continue using them (or things like them) simply because they are profitable.  Teach yourself to read labels and stop eating foods that contain Hydrogenated or Partially Hydrogenated oils!  Your life and health depend on it.

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