Many insist we should eat less saturated fat. Butter is always targeted.
But is margarine really a healthy replacement for butter? Has butter been fairly demonized? And what exactly is the "problem" with saturated fats?
Forget the dogma. Noted research, evidence from the very healthiest people and clinical trials all prove that butter is good, and margarine is not.
CRITICAL UPDATE: we completed this article in 2007. In February 2013 a story hit the front pages confirming what we and others, and the science has always said, but this time couldn't be ignored in the mainstream! Here we are causing a stir on Facebook with the link! But even "they" are now proclaiming butter is healthy! It will take time for this to trickle through, years possibly, after all, government has invested millions talking rubbish about sat fats. But ladies and gentlemen, it seems the times they are a changing.
Let’s look at the facts
Butter is completely natural and unadulterated, and packed with nutrients that make an important contribution to health and vitality. Yes, it is a saturated fat from animal sources, but that as we will show you below, is a good thing.
Margarine is totally man made. And it is one of the most processed, chemically enhanced and refined substances to be found in the kitchen.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, the American Government considered margarine an “an injurious product” and as such, it was heavily taxed.
Pressure from the dairy industry was part of the restriction of margarine sales, but rightly so! In Canada, margarine was banned until 1948. In Australia, yellow margarine was banned until the 60s, and in Ontario, it was illegal to sell butter coloured margarine until 1995. Years have passed, and today margarine is on (most) people’s shopping lists.
Toxic Trans Fats
In the name of convenience, margarine is hydrogenated which means it spreads quickly and easily. Plant fats are pumped with hydrogen, processed at high temperatures, and a unique arrangement of fat molecules is made, creating the so called trans fats. They are cheap to make, and resist oxidation - perfect for processed foods with a long shelf life.
Make no mistake, trans fats are toxic and evidence continues to grow. This is one subject area that all researchers agree on!
A particular concern we wish to highlight is the relationship between trans fats, blood insulin and diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is completely out of control, and trans fats are certainly part of this trend.
Trans fats are banned in Denmark and Switzerland and a handful of American states. In the UK, trans fats do not have to be shown on the label, but some progress has been made, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose have phased out the use of trans fats in their own brands. The powerful processed and fast food industries however continue to churn out these anti-nutrients.
The Nutritional Benefits of Butter
Saturated fats are naturally stable (here's the science bit - because all carbon bonds are occupied by a hydrogen atom).
Your body needs a certain amount of saturated fats. They support the immune system, provide you with energy, make up cell membranes, support bone health, help your body absorb essential fatty acids and more.
Butter is a saturated fat. Once upon a time it was held in extremely high regard for its nutritional properties and rightly so. Certain peoples around the world, still consider it one of their most important, traditional foods.
Butter is packed with the fat soluble vitamins A and D both of which have far reaching health benefits. It is one of the very best sources of these two essential vitamins which can only be obtained in good amounts from animal sources (for vegans and vegetarians, there are small amounts in some plants, but not as much as animal sources, and often not in the best form. For example beta carotene which is in fact a precursor to vitamin A).
Synthetic vitamin D however has to be added to margarine! And it's not the same thing at all.
It's important to note we are seeing widespread deficiencies of vitamin D here in the UK, and ever increasing cases of rickets in children. And that's despite the widespread consumption of cereals "fortified with vitamin D" but of course, this is synthetic D, which is not the same at all. Too many children are being given a low fat diet to the detriment of their health.
Many trace elements are present including selenium, zinc, chromium and iodine, and other beneficial substances such as lecithin, omega 6 and 3 in small, but very balanced amounts, and glycosphingolipids which protect against gastrointestinal infections.
Butter, (as does coconut oil
which also has excellent nutritional properties) contains unique short and medium-chain fatty acids. These play a special role in your body to fight pathogenic organisms in the gut and protect you from disease. Lauric acid (medium chain) boosts your metabolism.
So what about the “healthy” margarines?
Today, some margarines are free from, or “virtually” free from trans fats. Could these margarines be preferable to butter? It's still a definite no!
Lets look at the processes involved in creating margarine.
It starts with plant fats extracted with solvents, these are bleached and deodorised. Then they add various additives - colours, emulsifiers, synthetic vitamins, whey, flavours, stabilisers and preservatives to name just a few. Everything is blended together, heat treated, pasteurised, then chilled.
Yes, it spreads easily - manufacturers and trade associations still highlight the fact it spreads straight from the fridge as a reason to choose margarine over butter! Yes, it might taste "buttery” (or does it?)
It might even contain healthy plant sterols
as they like to tell us. Claims abound about for example cholesterol reduction and heart health benefits. In our opinion, this is propaganda at best! The plant sterols are healthy, but they are being delivered in a synthetic medium.
But despite all this clever advertising, margarine has no real place on the plates of the truly health conscious.
In contrast, the only additive allowed in butter is salt. (It is always best to choose unsalted butter, as lets not forget that the salt used will (generally) be highly refined salt, not real salt
packed with minerals and trace elements).
But isn't it fattening?
You'll be happy to hear that it isn't!
The calories from medium chain fatty acids are actually burnt much quicker than those found in long chain fatty acids such as olive oil. They give quick energy and are not stored in the adipose tissues. Human fat tissue is however affected by long chain fatty acids as found in polyunstaturated fats and refined carbohydrates. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in fact helps prevent weight gain and promotes muscle health.
You might be interested in the book "Eat Fat to Lose Fat" by noted researcher Sally Fallon on the subject of using the right sort of fats to lose weight. But when it comes to weight loss, cutting out margarine, vegetable oils, refined sugars and soya will yield better results than cutting out butter and good quality meats!
The Wulzen or "anti-stiffness" factor is a nutrient unique to butter. In 1943, Dutch researcher Rosalind Wulzen found that feeding any animal a low fat diet resulted in arthritic tendencies, but that these can be reversed when raw butter fat is reintroduced
What About Cholesterol
It is often the case that those with high cholesterol are told to avoid dietary cholesterol, in other words foods high in saturated fat. This is nonsense nutrition and does not deal with the facts. Indeed, low fat diets are lacking in nutrients. For someone who has unbalanced cholesterol, an unbalanced low fat diet will not help.
If we review all studies, dietary interventions only ever change blood cholesterol levels by tiny amounts, often there is no change at all, or changes are negative!
Some of the best examples of this issue in the world come from Africa (more on these and other studies below).
The Masai of Kenya drink half a gallon of milk a day, large quanities of meat, and have some of the lowest cholesterol rates of any country in the World. The Samburu drink even more milk, and twice the amount of saturated fat of the typical Western diet. Their cholesterol levels? Also some of the lowest in the World. In Somalia, the diet is packed with butter fat - as much as a pound a day because they exist almost exclusively on camel milk. Their blood cholesterol levels are even lower than the Samburu tribe.
There are many Western studies that back up these extreme diet examples on the Cholesterol issue.
What About Organic and Raw?
Please note, when it comes to butter, organic is best, and from grass fed cows even better. This is not always easy to establish with supermarket brands, so local butters from delicatessans and farmers markets are always the best choice when it comes to nutritional value.
If you are lucky enough to be able to obtain raw milk and butter, they are highly recommended. Demand is soaring for raw dairy, and there is now even one farm selling online and delivering nationwide, see Hook and Son
. You can read about Local Hero: Steve Hook The Raw Milkman in the Times
. And see Ancient Dietary Wisdom / Weston A Price Foundation
for more on this subject.
Also when it comes to milk, if you need to buy pasteurised, do make sure you buy organic and non homogenised, again your local farm shop is best.
But What About the "Evidence" on Saturated Fats?
Science has never shown that reducing saturated fats reduces morbidity rates.
The rise in health issues like heart disease, auto immune diseases, obesity and the like, actually goes hand in hand with the growth in the usage of processed vegetable oils and refined sugars. All over the World we find evidence that saturated fats are absolutely not the issue.
Perhaps the best modern Western example is France. It's called "The French Paradox", they eat far more saturated fats than the UK, and yet their rates of heart disease are significantly lower.
At the beginning of the 20th Century in America, heart disease was extremely rare. In just the forty years between 1920 - 60, it became the biggest single cause of death. And yet, in this very same time period, butter consumption went from an average of 18lbs per person a year to 4lbs. Clearly then, butter was never to blame.
After World War II in Switzerland, the consumption of animal fat went up by 20%, heart mortality went down.
In the 60s, a study in India found heart disease was fifteen times higher in South India compared to the North, yet in the North, they consumed nine times more saturated fat.
In the African tribe the Masai, whose entire diet is milk, butter, blood and animal meat, heart disease is unknown.
The traditional Eskimos are free of heart disease yet basically live on saturated fat; that is until they adopt a Western diet, and then it presents.
In 1965 The British Medical Journal published a study that looked at people who had suffered a heart attack. One group consumed corn oil, one olive oil, and the third saturated fats. After two years, the group eating saturated fats had by far the greatest % of people remaining alive -75% compared to 57% for the olive oil group, and 52% in the corn group.
Another famous study in the 70s - The Nurses Health Study of over 80,000 women aged 34 - 59 found "In multivariate analyses in which age, smoking, and other covariates were controlled for, intakes of short- to medium-chain saturated fatty acids were not significantly associated with the risk of coronary heart disease"
In Australia the Sydney Diet-Heart Study of 1978 showed an increased mortality rate of 50% when animal fat was replaced with vegetable fat for five years.
In 1988, a study was halted in dramatic circumstances for ethical reasons because a low fat diet was having devasting consequences. A traditional mediterranean diet had a 70% lower death rate than the group who were given a low fat diet, including swapping butter for canola oil. (The Lyon Heart Study - Michel de Lorgeril, M.D)
A 14 year study of health professionals published in the BMJ in 2003, found no evidence linking dietary fat and strokes.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported in 2004 "At this time, research on how specific saturated fatty acids contribute to CAD and on the role each specific saturated fatty acid plays in other health outcomes is not sufficient to make global recommendations for all persons to remove saturated fats from their diet. No randomized clinical trials of low-fat diets or low-saturated fat diets of sufficient duration have been carried out; thus, there is a lack of knowledge of how low saturated fat intake can be without the risk of potentially deleterious health outcomes"
Quoting Alan Gaby MD "The hypothesis that excess consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol is an important cause of coronary heart disease (CHD) is based on incorrect assumptions and has failed the test of controlled clinical trials. In the present review it is suggested that CHD may, in fact, be caused by consumption of modern processed food. Diets containing large amounts of sugar, refined flour, and oils are greatly depleted of a wide range of vitamins and minerals. Even a marginal deficiency of some of these micronutrients may play a major role in the pathogenesis of CHD. In addition, some components of processed food, such as trans fatty acids, heated vegetable oils and sucrose, may have a direct toxic effect on the cardiovascular system"
Even The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) European Coronary Prevention Study found no relationship between saturated fats and heart disease, this was published in 1983. Shortly after, following 50 years of research, a report published in 1997 concluded
"Intakes of fat and type of fat were not related to the incidence of the combined outcome of all cardiovascular diseases or to total or cardiovascular mortality"
We could go on, but let's just say, again, it's not about the butter!
Where Did the Idea Come From That Saturated Fat is "Bad?"
In the 1950s, heart disease was soaring, at the time, nobody knew why. A group of scientists developed a theory that cholesterol and saturated fats were the cause because they raised blood cholesterol. This, is the lipid hypothesis.
The hypothesis from the 1950s has never, ever been proven!
(Argumentum ad populum - "a proposition must be true because many people believe it" is not enough!)
In 1957 Dr. Norman Jolliffe Director of the Nutrition Bureau of the New York Health Department, tested the idea, and initiated what they called the "Anti-Coronary Club". Businessmen in the 40 - 59 age group were placed on the "prudent diet". Butter was replaced with margarine and corn oil. Cereals took over from eggs, chicken and fish took the place of red meats.
This group was compared with an eggs for breakfast, meat every day group over nearly a ten year period, the study was published in 1966. The results? Well, eight in the Prudent Diet group died of heart disease, yet there were no deaths from heart disease in the saturated fat group.
Some like to reference the Ancel Keys' Six Countries Study, also from the 50s (and later the Seven Countries Study). It is widely accepted today that this study is flawed, just 6 countries were cherry picked from 22. (Where heart disease and saturated fat content were both high) If he had looked at all countries, or even picked a different six (virtually of whom had high saturated fat in the diet, yet low heart disease), he would have proven that there is no link between saturated fat and heart disease. In fact, his original work was widely ridiculed by the scientific community (including the World Health Organisation), yet today, his work is an accepted part of nutritional dogma.
“The dietary assessment methodology was highly inconsistent across cohorts and thoroughly suspect. In addition, careful examination of the death rates and associations between diet and death rates reveal a massive set of inconsistencies and contradictions. . . It is almost inconceivable that the Seven Countries study was performed with such scientific abandon. In summary, the diet-CHD relationship reported for the Seven Countries study cannot be taken seriously by the objective and critical scientist." Diet, Blood Cholesterol and Coronary Heart Disease, Russel H Smith
Millions of pounds have been spent around the World trying to prove the link between saturated fats and heart disease. They have not to date been successful. If there was a clear link, surely it would have been shown by now?
Fat consumption has changed considerable around the World, but there are many examples of consumption changing, with no impact on heart mortality, or consumption changing away from saturated fats, and heart mortality going up.
Even more frustrating for the anti saturated fats campaign, is that low fat diets have not dealt with the obesity epidemic sweeping the Western World.
"The diet-heart idea is the greatest scam in the history of medicine" - George Mann
Why Did the Saturated Fat Myth Become Fact?
Did we mention that Ancel Keys was an economist?
It is not our place to hypothesise about the real reasons saturated fats and butter have been cast aside, the discussion inevitably becomes political and sociological. There are people better placed than us to discuss this, we would rather stay focused on nutrition!
We will say that the modern diet is obsessed with three of the cheapest, most mass produced products out there - wheat, corn and soy. Some of the answers certainly lie here.
Proper analysis needs to look at the combination of deeper issues such as lifestyle, social network, exercise, environmental issues, loss of connection with our food, stress, sunlight exposure, as well as specific nutritional factors such as demineralized soils, trans fats, refined vegetable oils, processed foods, refined sugars, the list goes on and on.
Our advice when it comes to saturated fats…
Certainly, the nation needs to address its eating habits, but the knowledge about saturated fats and butter needs a radical overhaul for the health of the nation. Optimum health is not to be found by drastically reducing saturated fats.
When it comes to what to put on your toast, without question, butter is best. In fact, there are more questions about the bread
than the butter!
Read all of your food labels carefully, and eliminate anything that says "partially hydrogenated", "hydrogenated" or even "low in trans fats".
We recommend that all vegetable oil should be eliminated from the diet. The only oils you should use are Olive Oil, Coconut Oil
for cooking, and for salads (and nutritional value!) cold pressed oils, the best of the these being Hemp
Basically, all processed foods should be eliminated as far as possible.
Choose good cuts of meat in preference to processed meats such as sausages (these should be included only in moderation). A recent study by Harvard of a million people found that processed meats raised rates of heart disease, yet unprocessed beef, lamb and pork did not - how very interesting! (report on this at the BBC here
Cut out those cakes and biscuits, not only are they high on the wrong type of fats, but are also laden with sugar.
And as ever, pack vegetables for balance and harmony in your diet. Small amounts of fruit are fine, but remember these are very high sugar.
If you want to read more about the benefits of butter, and traditional diets, please visit the Weston A Price Foundation
for an absolute wealth of information.
The Margarine Timeline
1813 - Michel Eugène Chevreul discovered "margaric acid" a fatty acid
1869 - Emperor Louis Napoleon III wanted a butter substitute for the lower classes and the military, and offered a reward to the first to invent it
1873 - French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriés invented oleomargarine by clarifying vegetable fat, removing the liquid then allowing it to solidify.
1874 - United States Dairy Co. New York, buys the Mege-Mouries patent and began to manufacture margarine, they called it "artificial butter"
1886 - Margarine banned in Canada
1877 - United States pass legislation restricting the sale of margarine, restricting labelling claims, and requiring manufacturers to hold a license to make and sell margarine
1902 - United States pass legislation restricting the sale of yellow margarine, bootleg margarine became common, and some companies sold colouring capsules so consumers could colour their own margarine
1903 - Hydrogenation of oils process is invented by Normann
1948 - Canada lifts the margarine ban
1950 - federal Margarine Act was signed by President Truman margarine taxes and licenses were lifted
1967 - Wisconsin, United States, the last state to do so, lifts restrictions on margarine
1960s - Australia lifts the ban on coloured margarine
1994 - EU legislation prohibits the use of the word butter on margarine products (and so it is today we have "Utterly Buttery" and others that change the word enough to escape the legislation
July 2008 - Quebec lifts the ban on yellow margarine
"As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists" - Joan Gussow
What About The Other Fats?
Monounsatured fats can be found in some healthy oils, and foods such as olives, almonds, pecans and avocados. The best oil source is Olive Oil, and this of course is a key part of the mediterranean diet known for its health giving properties. It helps lower blood pressure, inflammation and LDL (bad) cholestrol. Extra virgin oil has better levels of antioxidants and is therefore preferable.
Polyunsaturated Fats are found in various vegetable oils, corn, sunflower, safflower, sesame and soy. Most polyunsaturated fats are weighted far too heavily towards omega 6, and some are better than others, some should be avoided completely, especially when refined and processed (as most are, when it comes to vegetable oils, they should be cold pressed if you are going to use them)
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are a special family of polyunsaturated fats that because they cannot be made by your body, need to be included in your diet. They are often referred to as the “Good Fats”. Essential fatty acids fall into two groups omega 3 and 6 (parent essential fatty acids), and your body uses them to make derivatives of these.
Omege 3 - ALA - (alpha-linolenic acid) is a “short chain” fatty acid found in plant sources Hemp Seed Oil
being the best. Omega 3 - EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are “long chain” fatty acids found in fish, the best sources being salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, halibut and sea bass
Article Copyright Seventh Wave Supplements 2007 - 2012
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration - Weston A Price DDS
The Fourfold Path to Healing - Thomas Cowan
Eat Fat to Lose Fat - Sally Fallon
The Recipe for Living Without Disease - Aajonus Vonderplanitz
Coronary Heart Disease: The Dietary Sense and Nonsense - George V Mann
The Cholesterol Myths: Exposing the Fallacy that Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease - Uffe Ravnskov
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Good Calories, Bad Calories - Gary Taubes
The Great Cholesterol Con - Anthony Colpo
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Nutritional Factors in Cardiovascular Disease, Journal of Advancement in Medicine, Volume 2, Numbers 1/2, Spring/Summer 1989 Alan R. Gaby, M.D.
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Dietary saturated fats and their food sources in relation to the risk of coronary heart disease in women1,2,3 Frank B Hu, Meir J Stampfer, JoAnn E Manson, Alberto Ascherio, Graham A Colditz, Frank E Speizer, Charles H Hennekens and Walter C Willett
Removing industrial trans fat from foods: a simple policy that will save lives - Editorial in the British Medical Journal. putting the case for a ban on trans fats as a simple, low cost, effective public health measure. By Dariush Mozaffarian, assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology, and Meir J Stampfer, professor of medicine and epidemiology, at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. Published in BMJ 2010;340:c1826, 15 April 2010
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Replacement of Dietary Saturated Fatty Acids by Trans Fatty Acids Lowers Serum HDL Cholesterol and Impairs Endothelial Function in Healthy Men and Women - article from Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 2001;21:1233, by Nicole M. de Roos; Michiel L. Bots; Martijn B. Katan
The case for not restricting saturated fat on a low carbohydrate diet by Jeff S. Volek and Cassandra E. Forsythe, referenced letter in Nutrition & Metabolism 2005, 2:21. Quote: "We believe that the recommendation to restrict saturated fat in favor of unsaturated fat on a low-carbohydrate diet is unnecessary and may even diminish some of the beneficial physiological effects associated with carbohydrate restriction."
Trans-Fatty-Acid Content of Common Foods - letter to the New England Journal of Medicine (Volume 329:1969-1970, December 23 1993, Number 26). QUOTE: "The adverse effects of the trans fatty acids on the ratio of total cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein cholesterol is twice that of saturated fatty acids."
Trans-fatty acids intake and risk of myocardial infarction - by Ascherio et al, published in Circulation Vol. 89 1994, pp.94-101. Quote: "intake of trans-fatty acids was directly related to risk of myocardial infarction ... Intake of margarine - the major source of trans-isomers - was significantly associated with risk of myocardial infarction."
Dietary fat intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in women - paper in the American J. of Clinical Nutrition, June 2001, by Jorge Salmerón et al. It finds a correlation with dietary trans fat and type 2 diabetes. QUOTE: "We estimated that replacing 2% of energy from trans fatty acids isoenergetically with polyunsaturated fat would lead to a 40% lower risk ... Substituting nonhydrogenated polyunsaturated fatty acids for trans fatty acids would likely reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes substantially."
Dietary intake of trans fatty acids and systemic inflammation in women - paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 79, No. 4, 606-612, April 2004, by Dariush Mozaffarian et al. QUOTE: "trans Fatty acid (TFA) intake predicts risks of coronary artery disease and diabetes. ... TFA intake is positively associated with markers of systemic inflammation in women.
Dietary fats, carbohydrate, and progression of coronary atherosclerosis in postmenopausal women 1,2,3 Dariush Mozaffarian, Eric B Rimm and David M Herrington "In postmenopausal women with relatively low total fat intake, a greater saturated fat intake is associated with less progression of coronary atherosclerosis, whereas carbohydrate intake is associated with a greater progression"
Trans Fat Diet Induces Insulin Resistance in Monkeys - by Kylie Kavanagh, Kate Jones, Janet Sawyer, Kathryn Kelly, Janice D. Wagner, Lawrence L. Rudel of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, NC. Presented on 12 June 2006 at the 66th annual scientific sessions of the American Diabetes Association