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Trans Fat and Our Health

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Trans Fat and our health

Nathaniel Cooper

Trans Fat

  • Trans fats, or trans-unsaturated fatty acids, are a type of unsaturated fats that are uncommon in nature but became commonly produced industrially from vegetable fats starting in the 1950s. The rarer, but naturally occurring trans fats are produced in the gut of some animals and foods made from these animals (milk and meat products) may contain small quantities of these fats. Artificial trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.  They are used in margarine, snack foods, doughnuts, cakes, pie crusts, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, margarines, packaged baked goods and fried fast foods, including in most restaurants. Trans fat has been shown consistently to be associated, in an intake-dependent way, with increased risk of coronary heart disease, a leading cause of death in Western nations, like the U.S.
  • Fats with double bonds in the hydrocarbon chains are called unsaturated, while no double bonds are saturated fats. Saturated fats have more desirable physical properties, such as melting at desirable temperatures, and longer shelf life. They are also inexpensive, and give foods a desirable taste and texture. Many fast-food and restaurants use trans fats to deep-fry foods because the oils with trans fats can be used many times without being replaced. Although trans fats are edible, eating them has been shown to increase the risks of coronary heart disease, developing type 2 diabetes, and stroke. Unlike other dietary fats, trans fat, raises bad cholesterol (LDL), and lowers levels of good cholesterol (HDL), increasing triglycerides in the bloodstream, and promoting systemic inflammation. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol can build up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow. While high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver. Many doctors consider trans fats the worst type you can eat. In 2013, the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) issued a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils (which contain trans fats) are not safe. Unfortunately, it was not until 2015 that the FDA finally determined that trans fats are unsafe. A three-year time limit was placed for their removal from all processed foods. This is nothing new, in other countries, there are already legal limits on the amount of trans fat food may contain.
  • There are many alternatives, and trans fats can be reduced if not entirely removed from foods. Using saturated fats such as, palm oil, fully hydrogenated fats, or lard could greatly reduce the need. There are other alternative formulations already out there which would allow unsaturated fats to be used to replace saturated or partially hydrogenated fats.
  • It was suggested in the late 1950s in various scientific publications that trans fats could be a cause of the large increase in coronary artery disease that had been noted. But by the 1980s it had still been all but unaddressed by the public and media. Then along came Phil Sokolof, a multi-millionaire businessman, and crusader against heart disease. Sokolof had become wealthy in the construction business. Despite never being overweight and not being a smoker, Sokolof, then 43, had a heart attack. He did his own research and decided that high fat foods were the culprit. This led to him founding the National Heart Savers Association. He started a campaign against McDonalds for their use of beef tallow in cooking their French fries. He also stopped various large food manufacturing companies from using tropical oils, such as, coconut and palm. He often took out full page advertisements, telling everyone to not buy 2% milk, only skim. He single-handedly had a massive impact on today’s culture of having a fat free diet.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is no longer in the “generally recognized as safe” category, and therefor should be phased out of food production in the next several years. There has been no apparent health benefit found in trans fats, and the Department of Agriculture recommends that yo keep intake to a minimum. Yet, the United States if a food has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat in a serving, the food label can read 0 grams trans fat. This small amount of trans fat in your foods can add up very quickly. Especially if you consume several portions of different foods that contain the required less than 0.5 grams per serving. If you want to be sure you are not eating trans fats, check the food’s ingredient list for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which indicates the food contains trans fat, just below 0.5 grams per serving.
  • Even after all of this, do not think of food that is free of trans fat as automatically good for you. Food manufacturers have begun substituting ingredients for trans fat. Ingredients such as tropical oils (coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils) contain high amounts of saturated fats per serving, which raises your LDL cholesterol. This is still better than raising LDL while lowering HDL, but not necessarily a healthy diet. In a healthy diet, 25 to 35 percent of your daily total calorie intake can be from fat, but saturated fats should only account for 10 percent. There are still healthier options, such as monounsaturated fats (olive, peanut, and canola oils)




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