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The Wikipedia page for margarine has an unsourced line:

Unlike other dietary fats, trans fatty acids are not essential and provide no known benefit to human health.

This seems like pretty bold claim to be completely unsourced. Are trans fats non-essential? Do they provide no known benefit to human health?

  • I don't know about "no known benefit" but trans fats are supposed to be quite rare in nature (according to Wikipedia) so it seems reasonable that they're "non-essential." – Larry OBrien Mar 18 '12 at 20:27
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    For clarity, the word "essential" has special meaning in nutritional science. It usually means a substance that is necessary to the body, but that the body cannot make on its own; it therefore must be provided externally (usually by eating it). Presumably that's not the intended meaning here. (Unless the body actually does produce its own transfats. But if the body does, that would seem to invalidate the second half of the claim). – Flimzy Mar 19 '12 at 7:37
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    Do dietary calories count as a known benefit? – Oddthinking Mar 22 '12 at 9:20
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There's plenty of evidence showing that manufactured trans fatty acids are harmful. However, Conjugated Linoleic Acid is a naturally-occurring trans fat, which has several studies showing that it might have anti-cancer properties, as well as helping in weight management.

Inhibition of carcinogenesis by conjugated linoleic acid: potential mechanisms of action.

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is composed of positional and stereoisomers of octadecadienoate (18:2); it is found in foods derived from ruminants (beef and lamb as well as dairy products from these sources). When a mixture of isomers is fed to experimental animals, chemically induced tumorigenesis of mammary, skin and colon is reduced.

J Nutr. 2002 Oct;132(10):2995-8.

Although CLA isn't an essential nutrient, the OP actually made two claims, the other being about CLA having no benefits.

  • As a side note, the CLA link (like the OP Margarine link) where I found a list of benefits, is also from Wikipedia. I'm not sure of the implications for the reliability of crowd-sourcing. :) – John C Mar 22 '12 at 12:46
  • Wow, thanks this is a super interesting answer. Can you possibly cite something for the claim that manufactured trans fat is harmful though? – Sam I Am Apr 1 '12 at 4:53
  • @SamIAm, there's plenty of links at the Wikipedia link. Here's one: Trans fatty acids - are the effects only marginal?: "The combined results of metabolic and epidemiological studies provide strong evidence that trans fatty acid intake is causally related to risk of coronary disease." – John C Apr 1 '12 at 12:01
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What about this:

"Trans fatty acids are not essential and provide no known benefit to human health", whether of animal or plant origin.

Food and nutrition board, institute of medicine of the national academies (2005). Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). National Academies Press. p. 423 and 447

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