Hidden Trans Fats Dangers
Trans fats are finally getting the attention they deserve. Cities like New York and Philadelphia have banned trans fats from restaurant foods, and food manufacturers are required to include the number of grams of trans fats on their products’ labels. Recently, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a law banning all California restaurants from using trans fats. But are you still getting hidden trans fats in your diet without knowing?
What Are Trans Fats and Why Do We Use Them?
Trans fats were developed as a way to keep fat-containing foods from becoming rancid, so they could be shipped long distances and stored for a long time. They are found primarily in chemically processed vegetable oils called hydrogenated oils and their taste mimics that of saturated fats. Butter substitutes containing trans fats originated in France and Germany in the 19th and early 20th centuries and were used by those who couldn’t afford butter. The first partially hydrogenated, trans fat-laden vegetable shortening in the U.S. was Crisco, made by Proctor and Gamble. And during World War II, butter was rationed, so Americans started using more margarine for frying and baking. Soon restaurants and fast food chains were taking advantage of this cheap, long lasting food “creation.” As certain studies began to link saturated fat to high cholesterol and heart disease, more people began to use margarine. In fact, until the real truth about the dangers of trans fats become all too apparent, margarines and vegetable shortening were widely promoted as being heart-healthy. Even the American Heart Association encouraged their use up to only a few years ago.
Trans Fats Dangers
Once thought to be a heart saver, trans fats are now considered a major heart health enemy. Trans fats are artificially created through a process called hydrogenation, which uses hydrogen, pressure and heat to change the chemical structure of vegetable oils from liquid to semi-solid. Hydrogenated oils have at least four negative impacts on your body: they raise LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and they lower HDL cholesterol (the good kind, which helps move LDL cholesterol out of the arteries and back to the liver where it can be metabolized). They also raise triglycerides and increase levels of lipoprotein (a). These substances make your arteries less flexible, raising your risk of heart attack or stroke.
In the famous 1993 Nurses Study, which included 85,000 women, those who ate the most trans fats were 50% more likely to have a heart attack than women who ate the least amount of trans fats. They were also more likely to become diabetic.
A 2% increase in trans fat consumption has been associated with a 23% increase in incidence of coronary heart disease. For most people, that’s just 40 extra calories from trans fats — or about 4 extra grams — per day!
How To Avoid Trans Fats
Although some trans fats (of a slightly different chemical configuration) do occur naturally in dairy and meat, the most dangerous trans fats are found primarily in packaged foods, some bakery items and restaurant food (unless you live in a city or state that bans their use in restaurants).
Learning to read food packaging carefully is essential. Even foods that proclaim they are “trans fat free” can contain up to .49 grams per serving. That might not seem like much, but it can add up fast, especially if you are following the American Heart Association guidelines to consume 2 grams or less a day. Look for the terms “hydrogenated,” “partially hydrogenated” or “shortening” in the list of ingredients. They all mean the product contains trans fats. Foods most likely to have trans fats include baked goods, and packaged foods like crackers, croutons, refrigerated doughs, pie crusts and snack foods. When shopping for these foods, choose products made with natural, non-hydrogenated oils like canola, olive, palm or coconut.
Where There’s Will There’s Way
Manufacturers and restaurant owners often complain that without hydrogenated oils, they can’t run their businesses profitably — but of course, once the heat is on, someone finds a way. Scientists at Texas A&M University Food Protein Research and Development Center created a contest to see which trans fat free cooking oils could fill the role of hydrogenated oils — being inexpensive, tasty and long lasting.
Cooking with Vegetable Oils
While you may read that frying foods in vegetable oils at high heat creates dangerous hidden trans fats, according to Mary Enig, PhD, a lipid researcher for 30 years, author of Know Your Fats and a primary voice for the dangers of trans fats for over a quarter of a century, that’s not exactly true. However, says Enig, high fat frying with unstable vegetable oils does create “polymers” which are unhealthy. When vegetable oils (like olive oil) are used in stove-top cooking, medium rather than high heat should be used. Oils rich in saturated fats, like palm and coconut, are more heat-stable and better alternatives for high heat cooking.
According to Enig, the 1969 White House Conference produced a “New Foods Document” which promoted the acceptance of imitation foods as if they were real foods. Enig says, “This led to a major decline in the quality of our foods and especially the quality of good fats.” This is why some food products can sit on a shelf for years and not “go bad,” and has led to the promotion of genetically modified foods that suit the production of processed fats.
Enig says because of decisions made by the FDA to lump saturated fats and trans fats together, “we have a population that is terrified of healthy, natural fats found it dairy, meat, coconut and palm oils which are healthful and stable to cook with, [while] at the same time we have widespread obesity, runaway diabetes, increasing cancer, immune dysfunction and heart disease rates.” Enig explains that trans fats only similarity with saturated fats is their texture. Chemically they are very different, and trans fats, not saturated fats, are responsible for the increases in diabetes and heart disease, which were a staple of American diets long before heart disease and diabetes became epidemic.
For more information about the positive side of saturated fats visit the Weston A. Price Foundation.
The Anti-Aging Bottom Line: The dangers of trans fats have been well established. Unlike saturated fats, which are not unhealthy as was once thought, trans fats have no place in a healthy diet. Make sure that you are doing everything you can to keep them out of your diet to avoid the health threats they pose. This means reading packages carefully, and eliminating processed foods from your diet as much as possible.