Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past 5 years, then you’ve definitely heard of trans fats.
They’re those nasty, artery-clogging, unsaturated fats that so many fast food restaurants and food manufacturers use in their recipes nowadays, and they’re often cited as the primary reason for America’s far-reaching obesity problem.
As countless studies have linked them to heart disease, rising cholesterol and diabetes, trans fats have been regulated all over the world. In the U.S., all food manufacturers are now required to cite trans fat content on the Nutrition Facts panel of their products. In the city of Philadelphia, trans fats have been banned from area restaurants completely. And in Canada, the federal government has even stepped in to limit trans fats throughout the country.
If this weren’t enough to convince you that trans fats are bad news, there’s now even more reason to steer clear of these dangerous, life-threatening ingredients.
They’ve now been linked to depression.
According to recent studies, trans fat intake is now thought to increase a person’s risk of depression, and the more trans fats a person consumes, the higher that chance is.
How Trans Fat Can Cause Depression
A 2011 study called the SUN Project found that trans fats increase a person’s risk of depression exponentially. In fact, in the group of participants with the highest trans fat intake, they had a nearly 50 percent higher change of developing depression than those with minimal trans fats in their diets.
According to the researchers, this is due to the biological changes that trans fats cause in the body. These are the same changes that lead to heart disease, obesity and other adverse effects.
You see, trans fats reduce HDLs, or the “good” cholesterols, while increasing the LDLs, or bad ones. They also lead to inflammation, a condition which can interfere with the brain’s neurotransmitters. Eventually, this can impact the body’s serotonin levels, which has a direct effect on the person’s mood and disposition and, eventually, can lead to depression.
Avoiding Trans Fats
Cutting out food groups from your diet is usually challenging, but avoiding trans fats isn’t actually all that difficult. As very little trans fats actually occur in nature, there’s no need to worry about the fruits, vegetables, meats or legumes you’re consuming. And unless you cook in shortening a lot at home, most of your home-cooked meals are probably safe, too.
The main culprit is pre-made, pre-packaged goods, as well as foods in restaurants and fast food joints. Fried foods, in general, are probably more likely to contain trans fats than anything else, though pre-made baked goods like cakes, cookies and pastries usually contain it, too. (Margarine and shortening are both sources of trans fats!)
Healthy alternatives to Trans Fats
According to the SUN Project, olive oil can actually decrease a person’s risk of depression. In fact, the study suggests that people who consume 20 grams of olive oil per day have a 30 percent lower chance of depression, when compared with those who consume none or very little in their diets.
The study also found that monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats have an inverse relationship with depression, meaning as intake of these healthier fats increases, a person’s risk of developing depression thus decreases. Some great monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats to use include:
- Sesame oil
- Peanut oil
- Organic corn oil
- Organic sunflower oil
- Coconut oil
Plant and nut-based oils are all better choices for cooking than trans fats, and salmon and fatty fish can serve as great sources of good fatty acids as well. Try to work these into your diet at least one or two meals a week.
Experts also recommended following what’s called the “Mediterranean diet,” a way of eating modeled after the people of Greece and other Mediterranean countries. Their diet relies heavily on olive oil, fruits, vegetables, legumes and lean meats, along with very low amounts of trans fats. (The traditional Mediterranean diet consists of only .4 percent trans fats, while the typical American one is six times that.)
As these cultures are known for living long, healthy lives and having low instances of heart disease, depression and other health conditions, the Mediterranean diet can be a great choice for anyone looking to lose weight, get fit and just feel better about their health.
Fight Off Depression, Improve Your Health
It seems avoiding trans fats can have infinite benefits for your body. Not only can it lower your risk of heart disease and obesity, it can also decrease your chances of depression, a problem that plagues more than 150 million people worldwide. And with benefits like those, isn’t it worth the effort?
Have you taken steps to cut out trans fats from your diet? What are you favorite ways to get good, healthy fats in your daily meals? Share your thoughts with me know in the comments!