What are Trans Fats
Trans fats, also known as trans fatty acids, are added to many foods. There are two types of trans fatty acids. The first one is a naturally occurring trans fat called ruminant trans fats. These are present in small quantities in some meats and dairy products. They do not appear to pose a serious health risk.
The second type is where the problem lies. It is an artificial or industrial-made trans fat. It is created by taking liquid vegetable oil (most often soybean oil) and changing it’s structure. This is done by saturating the oil with hydrogen atoms through the use of time, pressure, heat and a catalyst such as aluminum or nickel. This makes them solid as in margarine and shortening.
A trans fat is a fatty acids that has gotten messed up through the high heat process and your body doesn’t know what to do with it. Your cells are confused.
These fats are not needed by the body, nor do they have any nutritional value.
What are Trans Fats Good For?
Why bother making trans fats then? It’s cheap!
In food stuff it is also used to increase the shelf life of the food, as an emulsifier to improve texture and to improve taste. It gives a richer flavor and texture.
Can you use another product for this? Sure, butter for example, but it’s more expensive.
How Do They Harm Your Body?
Trans fats are dangerous for your body. They have discovered all sorts of bad things happening, raising your risk of death. It adversely affects your cardiovascular health. Trans fats do the following:
- raise (bad) LDL cholesterol
- lower (good) HDL cholesterol
- raise blood pressure
- increase risk of heart disease and stroke
- hardens your arteries by inhibiting their ability to dialate
- damages the lining of blood vessels
- increase risk of diabetes
- worsens insulin sensitivity
- interferes with metabolic processes
- increases risk of obesity
- increases inflammation and inflammatory markers
- thickens your blood which has a harder time circulating through your body and brain
The REGARDS study followed participants for 7 years and found higher rates of death among higher trans fats users.
“What’s more important: to have nice, smooth margarine or to not kill people?”
–Fred Kummerow, Research scientist studying connection between processed foods and heart disease.
Which Ingredients Are Trans Fats?
Here’s where it gets confusing.
Partially hydrogenated oils -are definitely trans fats. The worst offenders, in fact. Only some of it is saturated with hydrogen making it a saturated fat, the rest remains an unsaturated fat causing trans fat production. It is partially hard.
Fully hydrogenated oils– These are NOT trans fat. All of the unsaturated oil has been saturated with hydrogen, so it is all saturated fat. There is no remaining unsaturated fat to become trans fat. It is fully hard. So this is not a trans fat concern. It is not quite as healthy as saturated fat from meat or dairy. First it is an industrial-made saturated fat. Also, natural saturated fat raises your LDL and HDL. The artificial raises your LDL and lowers your HDL. Not so good.
Shortening– This is partially hydrogenated oil.
Hydrogenated oil– If listed this way it is usually partially hydrogenated.
Mono and di-glycerides– These are by-products of trans fats and are normally made from soybean or canola oil processing. Unfortunately, they are emulsifiers not lipids so they don’t count as trans fats even though they are and you are eating them.
Vegetable oil– Vegetable oil is mostly made up of soybean oil. Oils have been tested and SOME have been found to contain trans fats. If it says vegetable oil it is most likely trans fat or interesterified fat.
DATEM– (mostly in bread) made from mono and di-glycerides.
Interesterified fat– This is a reaction to the outcry over trans fat. It was developed to take trans fats place. They have come up with a combination of partially and fully hydrogenated oil. (vegetable oil + stearic acid + catalyst = fat rich in stearic acid) This does not contain trans fat. They do not yet know the long term effects of this. However, some small studies were done and it was shown to raise LDL/HDL ratio, raise glucose by 20% and depress insulin. You will often see it listed as interesterified fat, stearic rich fats, or high stearate. This is NOT stearic acid. (stearaic acid is relatively safe natural fat) I would stay away from this until they know more.
Is There An Acceptable Level of Trans Fats?
There are no safe levels of trans fats. There are levels the FDA has decided are acceptable. It is limited to .5 grams per serving. (In Canada it is only .2 grams per serving). If it is below 1/2 gram per serving the company can say it’s not even in the product. Hence the label, “0 trans fats”. This is misleading. It doesn’t actually mean there isn’t any, it just means it is below acceptable limits per serving. Do you just eat one serving…of anything? Me either. When you eat small amounts many times, it adds up quickly. The daily accepted level of trans fats is 1 gram. Zero is really the only healthy level.
What Foods Are Trans Fats Found in?
Restaurants, cafeterias and bakeries use partially hydrogenated oils, but you have no way of telling how much. The are not required to show it. Because of the publicity, some have begun to change over to healthier oils. Fried foods and desserts are the worst offenders. The oil in the deep fryers are often partially hydrogenated.
Trans fats are in many processed foods such as:
- ice cream
- bakery foods
- pie crust
- granola bars
- salad dressing
- fast foods
- coffee creamer
- cool whip
- frozen foods
- microwave popcorn
How to Avoid Trans Fats
- Cut back on processed foods.
- Read food labels, if it has trans fat, put it back.
- When you go to a restaurant, ask what kind of oil they use. Better yet skip the fried food, it’s not even healthy.
- Change your oil to a healthier oil such as olive, avocado, coconut, etc.
- Avoid fast food.
- Use butter, not margarine.
- Cook your own food.
The Good News and Bad News
The good news is many companies are reformulating their products to eliminate the use of trans fats. Many groceries stores are also eliminating trans fats in their generic products. Some grocery stores don’t carry products that contain trans fats.
The bad news is just because a company change some items, doesn’t mean all the items have been changed. For example Coffeemate creamer has made some products without trans fats, but it still has other liquid and powdered products that contain both partially hydrogenated oil and mono and di-glycerides. Pepperidge Farm also varies by cookie variety.
The other bad news is you can’t go by the front of the label where it says “0 trans fats” There are quiet a few products that state 0 trans fat, but when you look at the ingredients it lists items like shortening, partially hydrogenated oil, etc. This is very deceptive. Even though the amount is small, it can add up to a large amount very quickly if you eat many products like this throughout the day. You need to be aware of the ingredients.
“The FDA encourages consumers seeking to reduce trans fat intake to check a food’s ingredient list to determine whether or not it contains PHOs. Currently, even foods labeled with “0” grams trans fat may contain small amounts (less than one-half a gram per serving) of PHOs. Selecting foods with even small amounts of trans fat can up to a significant intake over time.” -fda.gov
Bottom line: Take your magnifying glass to the store with you, read ingredients and if it lists a source of trans fat, put it back and make a wiser choice.