Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dangers of Trans Fats

Trans Fats

When I started college twenty years ago I took an organic chemistry class and learned about trans fats. That’s when I became a label reader and refused to eat anything that had trans fats. Now, whether you’ve had a chemistry class or not you’ve heard about trans fats and know that they are bad.

In this release I hope provide for you the ability to identify trans fats in foods that you buy and help you to know which ones are toxic and why you should avoid them.

The trans in trans fats describes the shape of the fat molecule. There are two potential shapes, which I’m aware of, to a fat molecule - trans and cis. Trans fats are an unsaturated fat with all the characteristics of a saturated fat – they lower HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and raise LDL (bad cholesterol). Also, because of it’s trans shape digestive enzymes have a difficult time digesting trans fats. Because of that, they are able to stay in the system longer and cause trouble.

Researchers have found links between trans fats and Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and infertility. Trans fats lead to many health problems because they cause inflammation. This is also important because if you experience pain trans fats can increase pain due to their inflammatory properties.

Trans fats are found in meats and dairy products. They are trans fats, but they are naturally occurring and small in number. Researchers have not thus far found these to be dangerous like the man made trans fats. So, for right now these are not sources of trans fats to worry about.

The trans fats you should be most concerned about are those in partially hydrogenated oils. The hydrogenation process is just like it sounds. It’s a process of adding hydrogen atoms to a fat. Adding hydrogen atoms to the fat does several things. First, by adding the additional hydrogen atoms the shape of the molecule changes, like we’ve already discussed. The changing of the shape not only makes it more difficult to digest, but it makes it more “sticky.” By being sticky it’s able to stick to the arteries easier and lead to plaques. Second, by adding the extra hydrogen atoms it changes the fat from liquid to solid – like shortening. This is why food manufacturers have really liked trans fats because fats in a solid form have a much longer shelf life. So, packaged cookies, for example, with trans fats will last a lot longer than those without. Another big reason why food manufacturers saw trans fats as a good thing was because they are so cheap.

Trans fats have been used in foods since the 1960’s, but it wasn’t until 2006 that food manufacturers were required to list the trans fat content of a food.

If you haven’t already start looking at your food labels, particularly if there is a “No Trans Fats” label on the front. Then look at the ingredients. Do you see “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil?” How can that be, on the front it clearly states “No Trans Fats.” The FDA has allowed food manufacturers to label something as “No Trans Fats” if it has less than .5 grams of trans fats per serving. So, all a food maker has to do is alter the serving size until the trans fat content in the serving is less than .5 grams and they put “No Trans Fats” on the front. Because most of us want to avoid trans fats we feel safe in buying the product. So what does that mean? Don’t trust the front of the package until you’ve read the ingredients.

The most notorious foods are bakery items, frosting and deep fried foods – so avoid these.

Some have suggested that we shouldn’t cook with oils because heating oils causes them to change to a trans fat. While this is true, I don’t believe in our home kitchens we are able to produce the heat & pressure required for this to be a worry. Better than vegetable oils may be butter, palm and coconut oils.

One more thing, a new fat seems to be becoming more popular - interesterified oil. The chemical process to produce these causes a rearranging of the molecule – just like trans fats. Interesterified oils also appear to raise LDL and decrease HDL as well as increase blood sugar. So look out for these as well.

This content comes from a podcast by the Nutrition Diva’s Quick & Dirty Tips.

So in summary read your labels and avoid trans fats and maybe go even one step further – just avoid packaged foods altogether.


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