Is trans fat the bad guy of nutrition?

If you're wondering if trans fat is really as unhealthy as everybody says it is, the answer is YES. Trans fat is one of the most sinister, life-threatening "foods" you can put in your body. It raises LDL (the bad cholesterol), sets you up for a lifetime of cardiovascular disease and lipid-related problems like diabetes, heart attack, and stroke, and actually makes your belly bigger.

Man-made Poison

Trans fat is an artificial, chemical concoction invented by manufacturers to make their products seem fresh and tasty. Masquerading as partially hydrogenated oil and vegetable shortening, this villainous substance is found in a myriad of products, from French fries (think McDonald's) to breakfast pastries (think Pop Tarts) to microwave popcorn (think Pop Secret). Go to your cupboard right now and you'll probably find the words "partially hydrogenated" and "vUnfortunately, fries have trans fat.Credit: Ian Britton/FreeFoto.comegetable shortening" on the packages of a lot of foods you eat. Indeed, this less-than-stellar food additive makes a special guest appearance in everything from "healthy" breakfast cereals to children's animal cookies.

Cholesterol Shoots to the Moon

Trans fat contains no nutrients and possesses no redeeming health qualities whatsoever. Eat a diet rich in trans fatty foods like donuts and French fries, and you'll likley be rewarded with high cholesterol and a predisposition for diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. Yes, it's difficult to maintain a healthy diet in today's rush-around, fast-food world--home-cooked meals have all but fallen by the wayside--but when we pass up good nutrition and reach for convenient, trans fat-laden products instead, we shoot ourselves in the foot (or, more accurately, the heart).

Consider the long-term health consequences next time you tear open a box of choco-chip cookies or pull into the drive through for a quick burger and fries. The cookies would be healthier if they were made with real butter. The fries would be better for you if they were prepared in olive or canola oil. Trans fat takes a bad situation (unhealthy food) and makes it much worse than it already is. It's like that playground bully who knocks you down, then proceeds to kick you in the mouth until a bunch of teeth fall out—and we're not talking baby teeth, either.

Flab Forms on the BellyTrans fat on a plate.

As if the negative consequences to your long term health aren't enough, good old trans fat wants to hone in on your looks as well. According to the Harvard Health Publication of August 2010, a diet high in vegetable shortening and other trans fats actually encourages flab to form on the abdomen. Don't panic, though; there's hope for those who savor the flavor of rich, delicious fat on their tongue. Research actually shows that a diet high in poly and monounsaturated fats helps discourage the formation of abdominal adipose tissue. In other words, you can have your fat and eat it, too—just make sure it's the healthy, unsaturated kind, found in nuts, fish, and certain oils.

Still a Nay-Sayer?

"Everything that tastes good makes me fat. Everything that I like puts me at risk for diabetes, heart attack, and stroke."

While it's true that many things are unhealthy in excess, trans fat is unhealthy even in small amounts. Just a little bit of it can raise your the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) in your blood. This, in turn, sets you up for the life-crushing diseases mentioned above.

Why eat foods with hydrogenated oil and vegetable shortening when you don't have to? There are plenty of yummy alternatives out there, and you probably won't even taste the difference. All you need to do is read labels. Healthy foods exist. Semi-healthy foods exits, too, like cookies and crackers and cakes without hydrogenated oil and vegetable shortening. So what are you waiting for? Go out, eat well, take back your health, and give big bad T.F. the cold shoulder.