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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Phantom Fat: An Invisible Killer


"Phantom fat" or trans fatty acids are created by the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils to produce margarine and shortening products. When introduced to the body, these fatty acids increase serum levels of low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and decrease serum high-density-lipoprotein cholesterol.(7, 19)Companies place these fats in foods with the goal of increasing profits by decreasing the amount of saturated fat reported on "nutrition facts" labels. Consumers buying these products are generally trying to decrease their intake of saturated fats to lower their risk for coronary heart disease. Conversely, the intake of trans fatty acids has been shown to be directly related to the risk for coronary heart disease in women (P<0.001).(5) The seriousness of this issue can be emphasized by the ability of trans fatty acids to have more adverse effects on serum lipoproteins than equal amounts of saturated fat (P<0.001).(9) Because amounts of trans fat are not listed on product labels, consumers may unknowingly be increasing their risks for coronary heart disease by eating trans fatty acids.

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