Trans fats banned; what that could mean for your cancer risk

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In three years, you won’t be seeing foods with added trans-fat on your grocery shelves, thanks to action from the federal government announced today. The step was taken primarily for heart health but it’s a great opportunity to help you shift to a more cancer-protective diet.

Trans fats are liquid fats that are partially hydrogenated, which makes them last longer on the shelf. A few years ago, you could spot them as an ingredient in many snack and packaged foods, such as margarine, cookies, pizza and chips. (There are also natural trans fats in meats and dairy but only in small amounts and these are not linked to heart health risks.)

Back in 2002, a report found a direct link between trans fat increasing risk of clogged arteries. Manufacturers had already begun phasing out trans fats, mostly replacing them with palm oil. Now, the FDA is mandating all food manufacturers cut partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat over the next three years.

That’s good news for heart health.

Plant and Animal Fats
Fats that fit well on The New American Plate, 2/3 – 1/3 way of eating.

For cancer, researchers do not have evidence that trans fats link to increased risk. But trans fats are almost always found in the high-calorie, fatty baked goods and other foods that can cause weight gain. Overweight and obesity is now a cause of 10 cancers.

For the next few years as you’re looking to avoid trans-fats, look for foods with olive and canola oils. They are high in heart healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

But eating highly processed foods like chips with a couple tablespoons of palm oil instead of that amount of trans fats is still the same calories. And it still does not provide the many nutrients, phytochemical and vitamins linked to a cancer-protective diet.

That’s where you can aim for the many whole and minimally processed foods that contain fats and are linked with cancer protection. Foods naturally high in fat like nuts, olives and many kinds of fish are part of a healthy dietary pattern linked to lower risk of cancer along with type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

A healthy dietary pattern limits many of the foods associated with trans fats, such as high amounts of processed sugary foods. It’s an eating pattern like this which is recommended for the upcoming dietary guidelines.

You can learn more about how to shift to healthier fats as part of your overall diet by following the New American Plate way of eating. By filling 2/3 or more of your plate with plant foods and 1/3 or less with animal foods, you’ll enjoy foods naturally high in heart healthy fats like nuts, seeds and avocados, as shown in the picture.


Author: Alice RD

Alice G. Bender, MS, RDN, is the Director of Nutrition Programs at AICR. She helps put the science of cancer prevention into action by providing tips and tools to choose nutritious and delicious foods. Alice has guided thousands of individuals to healthier lives through diet changes and choices.