Before you put down that Burger, you should know that not all trans fats are created equal, and some may even have health benefits.
Trans fatty acids, better known as trans-fats, have been a major focus of many nutritional debates due to their impact on raising cholesterol, contributing to the obesity epidemic, and the development of heart disease. These fats occur naturally in beef, lamb, and dairy products. With the government trying to regulate the use of trans-fats in food and people attempting to eliminate them from their diets, it seems like trans-fats are nothing but bad.
But is that really the whole story?
Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fatty acid. While unsaturated fats are generally considered healthier than their saturated counterparts, trans fats have been found to elevate the risk of heart disease, raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, decrease HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes. This research only applies to artificially created—rather than naturally occurring—trans fats.
In the industrial setting, trans fats are created by adding hydrogen molecules to liquid vegetable oil, creating a solid fat that has more desirable properties for processed foods, such as a uniform melting point. They have been used for decades to improve the shelf life, flavor, and texture of foods such as crackers, chips, margarine, baked goods, and fried foods.
They are commonly listed as “partially hydrogenated oils” on food labels, and health experts universally agree should be avoided as much as possible.
If you’ve looked at a ground beef nutrition label, you may have been surprised to see that your meat contains trans fats in small amounts. Though trans fats are commonly added to processed foods, it can also occur naturally in some animal products, such as beef, lamb, and dairy items.
This naturally occurring substance is produced in the gut of these animals as they digest the grass they eat. It then makes its way into milk and body fat. When you consume meat, milk, or other products from these animals, you will be eating a small amount of trans fat. Trans fats are found in higher levels in grass-finished animals as compared to grain-finished.
These naturally occurring trans fats include conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and vaccenic acid. CLA in particular has been shown to have potential health benefits, including a decreased risk of heart disease, preventing Type 2 diabetes, and a decreased risk of certain cancers. It is found primarily in meat and dairy products, including ground beef, steak, milk, and lamb. It is also sold as a nutritional supplement.
Nutrition labels are now required to include the amount of trans fat found in the food item, unless it is found to be less than half a gram per serving. Ground beef nutrition labels show that each 3 ounce serving contains 1 gram of trans fats.
With 23 grams of protein and under 200 calories, ground beef is considered a nutritious addition to your diet, though experts encourage selecting 90% lean or greater, due to the saturated fat content.
With so much attention focused on eliminating trans fats from your diet, it’s important to note that these regulations and restrictions do not apply to the naturally occurring trans fats in Burgers. These trans fats are not considered harmful to your health, and may even have some health benefits.
As with anything, Burgers should be enjoyed in moderation.