Diet and exercise
Last week we learned about the “good guys”of fats. This week it’s the “scoundrels” of fats…Trans fats! Trans fats, or trans fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fat. They do occur naturally in very small quantities in beef, lamb, chicken, and dairy, but the trans fats we’re exploring today, are man-made artificial fats created in an industrial process.
Trans fats were invented in the early 1900s and come from hydrogenated oils. Food companies began using hydrogenated oils to help increase food storage life, and to save food costs. The process of hydrogenation actually starts with healthful oils like olive, sunflower and soybean, but then these oils are injected with hydrogen gas, in the presence of a catalyst, usually nickel. The result is a solid, or semisolid unsaturated fat that imparts the desired food texture, crispness and flavor, with a longer shelf life.
Don’t let the “unsaturated” part fool you! The hydrogenation or partial-hydrogenation process adds hydrogen to carbon molecules that make oils last longer, but the result is also a fat that is one chemical reaction away from actually being a plastic. That’s right, plastic!
Imagine the natural proteins, carbohydrates, and fats you eat as little puzzle pieces in your body. Each has a specific molecular shape that has to “fit” in order to be utilized by the body. When you eat these “plastic” trans fats, the puzzle pieces just don’t fit, because of where their hydrogen molecules are placed. Trans fats wreak havoc once in the body. They drive up LDL (bad) cholesterol levels by 15%, and triglycerides (fat in the blood) by as much as 47% which markedly increases the risk of coronary artery heart disease, and stroke.
According to one study of some 80,000 women, for every 5% increase in the amount of “saturated” fat a woman consumes, her risk of heart disease increases by 17%, but only a 2% increase in trans-fat consumption will increase her risk of heart disease by 93%. Trans fats have also been shown to increase at least two inflammatory markers that can lead to metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of disorders that occur together, which include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and high cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Metabolic syndrome increases risk for coronary disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
Trans fats are bad for our brains too. Your brain depends on natural fats like healthful monounsaturated fats, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and even saturated fats, to create and support cell membranes and carry fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, but trans fats can cause cellular destruction, ravage hormone production, adversely affect memory and increase inflammation in the brain.
Trans fats can be found in many foods like, cookies, crackers, fried foods, fast foods, cakes, frozen pies, pie crust and other baked goods, microwave popcorn, potato chips, frozen pizza, coffee creamer, vegetable shortening and margarines.
Several countries have banned or restricted the use of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) in commercial products. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration also banned these artificial fats, however, this rule only starts to take affect this year, so many pre-packaged, and processed foods still contain trans fats.
Also, in the United States, if a food contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat in a serving, the food label is allowed to read “0 trans-fat”. Here’s the problem…0.5 grams of trans fat might seem insignificant, but that’s not true! 0.5 grams of trans fat is a substantial amount and can be detrimental to health.
I recommend reading ingredient labels. If a product contains any amount of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil, that product DOES contain trans-fat. Hidden trans-fat adds up quickly, especially if you eat multiple foods, or servings that have less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
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