Foods with Trans Fats Increase Postmenopausal Women's Risk of Stroke

Dorian Martin Health Guide March 07, 2012
  • As you age, what you eat can really make a difference in the quality of your health. For example, a new study out of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that postmenopausal women who ate the highest amount of foods with trans fats had a 39 percent increased risk of stroke than those who didn’t eat these types of foods. And it turns out that trans fats also negated the preventative aspects of taking a regular aspirin.


    In this study, researchers reviewed data on 87,000 women who were ages 50-79 and who were participating in the Women’s Health Initiative, a 15-year research program designed to address the most common causes of death, disability and poor quality of life in postmenopausal women – cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis.  The researchers asked these participants how much of 122 foods they ate during the three months prior to the study and then did follow-up surveys three years later. 


    Of these women, 1,049 suffered strokes during the study’s duration. Interestingly, researchers did not find an association between eating other types of fat and ischemic stroke. According to the Internet Stroke Center, an ischemic stroke is when an artery to the brain is blocked. Thus, fresh blood is not delivered from the heart and lungs to the brain. This means that the blood is not carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain and taking away carbon dioxide and cellular waste. “If an artery is blocked, the brain cells (neurons) cannot make enough energy and will eventually stop working,” the Internet Stroke Center website states. “If the artery remains blocked for more than a few minutes, the brain cells may die.”


    So what are trans fats? “Trans fats can be natural or artificial. Small amounts of trans fat occur naturally in beef and dairy foods,” the University of Maryland Medical Center website explained. “About 80 percent of trans fat in American's diet comes from factory-produced partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.”  The Mayo Clinic reports that this type of fat is created by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil using a process called hydrogenation. This process makes the oil less likely to spoil, thus allowing manufactured food to stay fresher longer and to have a longer shelf life at the grocery store. However, the addition of hydrogen to oil also causes the body’s bad (LDL) cholesterol to increase more than other types of fats. Additionally, trans fats lower your body’s good (HDL) cholesterol. “It’s thought that adding hydrogen to oil makes the oil more difficult to digest, and your body recognizes trans fats as saturated fats,” the Mayo Clinic website states.


    While there’s been a movement to remove or reduce trans fats, you still need to be careful. Health.com warns that trans fats tend to lurk in 22 foods. These foods are:

    • Potato chips
    • French fries
    • Any food that is battered and fried
    • Pie and pie crust
    • Margarine sticks
    • Shortening
    • Cake mixes and frostings
    • Pancake and waffle mixes
    • Fried chicken
    • Ice cream
    • Nondairy coffee creamers
    • Microwave popcorn
    • Ground beef
    • Cookies
    • Biscuits and sweet rolls
    • Breakfast sandwiches
    • Frozen or creamy beverages
    • Meat sticks
    • Crackers
    • Frozen dinners
    • Asian crunchy noodles
    • Canned chili
    • Packaged pudding

    So how can you find out whether processed food has trans fat in it? The Mayo Clinic recommends reading food labels. You should look for the term “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oil, which is another term for trans fat. Interestingly, fully or completely hydrogenated oil does not have trans fat. However, the Mayo Clinic warns that if the label only says “hydrogenated vegetable oil,” you should beware since this definition means the oil could contain some trans fat.


  • So the moral of the story is read labels if you are going to eating processed foods. But another really good choice is to avoid processed foods all together in order to avoid trans fats altogether.