In Canada, nearly 12 years after it was first introduced, the federal government decided to ban partially hydrogenated oils in all food sold in the country.
So what are trans fats ?
Partially hydrogenated oils are the main source of trans fats, which are known to raise LDL the “bad cholesterol” and lower HDL the “good cholesterol”.
According to Russel de Souza, a dietician, nutrition epidemiologist and assistant professor in the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence and Impact, he states that “gram for gram, no other fat appears to affect heart disease as much as trans fat.” Trans fats also increase inflammation in the body and are harmful to the cells that line the arteries.
In animal studies, trans fats have been linked to weight gain—notably belly fat—and may hamper the ability of insulin to drive blood sugar (glucose) where it needs to go.
What are partially hydrogenated oils?
Hydrogenation, complete or partial, is a chemical process in which hydrogen is added to liquid oils at high temperatures and pressures, to turn them into a solid form. This new product behaves like saturated fat, and can be used for baking and cooking by the food industry.
Partially hydrogenated fat molecules have trans fats, and they may be the worst type of fat you can consume.
What is a trans fatty acid ?
Fats are either saturated or unsaturated, which is a way of describing their chemical structure.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, like a stick of butter. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, like olive oil. Trans fats are semi-solid at room temperature owing the position of one (or more) of its chemical bonds being in the "trans-" rather than the "cis-" position.
There are two types of trans fats: natural and artificial. Artificial trans fats start off as vegetable oils, which are liquid at room temperature.
To make trans fats, ordinary vegetable oil, like safflower oil, is hardened by treatment with hydrogen at high temperatures and pressures. This chemical reaction converts a liquid into a semi-solid or solid, that behaves like saturated fat, and can be used for baking and cooking by the food industry.
In what kinds of foods can it be found?
Trans fats can be found in many foods – including fried foods like doughnuts, and baked goods including cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, and stick margarines and other spreads. You can determine the amount of trans fats in a particular packaged food by looking at list of ingredients on the Nutrition label of the food.
Is it worth your while avoiding trans fats ?
Definitely so ! Studies have shown that even a small amount of trans fats (2% of energy) can raise your risk of heart disease by 30%.
Gram for gram, no other fat appears to affect heart disease this much.
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and World Health Organization came up with the recommendation that the contents of trans fatty acids (TFA) in human dietary fats should be reduced to less than 4%.14
Denmark was the first country to introduce ban on the consumption of partially hydrogenated oils.15 It is generally believed that because of Danish Government’s efforts in reducing TFA consumption from 6 gm to 1 gm per day over a period of 2 decades, the deaths among Danes due to CHD have dropped by 50%.16
It is important that more consumers become aware of the dangers of consuming trans fats, then in this way indirect pressure is put on the manufacturers by not buying their products if they use hydrogenated oils. They will eventually have to change their formulations without trans fats and the industry must come up with a product that consumers will like just as much, and keep costs reasonable.
Barbara is a qualified nutritionist offering Health, Nutrition & Lifestyle Counseling. She gives Healthy weight loss advice and promotes the Mediterranean diet. She is the author of the Med Life Diet - creating healthy lifestyle habits and attitudes for life !