Trans Fats exist naturally, found in meats like beef, lamb, goat and milk products. They can also be synthesised artificially by hydrogenating unsaturated fats into what you identify as vegetable oils, margarine and other processed foods.
Although both natural and artificial trans fats are referred to interchangeably by nutritional guidelines; it is important to note that they differ chemically.
Their differences don’t stop there. Whilst artificially produced Trans Fats increase markers of cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and insulin resistance (obesity & Diabetes); naturally occurring trans fats may elicit very different responses.
Trans Fats And Cholesterol
Artificial trans fats are well established to increase LDL cholesterol (some consider this ‘bad’ cholesterol) whilst lowering HDL (‘good’ cholesterol). These biomarkers are traditionally used to identify the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
An extensive review concluded that a naturally occurring trans fat, Vaccenic Acid, had no adverse impact on risk factors for Cardiovascular disease. In fact, they suggested that supplementing Vaccenic Acid may positively impact markers of cardiovascular disease. This was supported by a recent study that found naturally occurring trans fats to actually increase good cholesterol (HDL).
The Microbiome And Body Weight
A study that looked at a naturally occurring trans fat, CLA, found in beef, lamb and dairy. They found CLA to have a positive impact on body weight through an increase in fat breakdown and fat metabolism. Another study found that supplementing CLA for 8 weeks significantly altered the composition and function of the microbiome, affecting the way fats are metabolised. This suggests that alterations to the microbiome could be responsible for the reduction in body weight observed.
In addition, CLA has been found to reduce the prevalence of diabetes through improving markers of insulin sensitivity (glucose levels and triglycerides).
Given the undesirable effects of artificial trans fats on markers of cholesterol and body composition, its likely that these are mediated through the changes in gut microbe composition. Therefore, in order to maintain great gut health trans fats found in artificial foods probably aren’t ideal.
Intriguing that artificial trans fats seem to result in the opposite health outcomes to that of their natural counterparts.
In light of this, it is best to avoid processed foods that contain Trans Fats, which are also called hydrogenated fats. Don’t be put off by naturally occurring Trans Fats found in meat and dairy as these could be health promoting.