What Are Trans Fats?
Trans Fats are one of the most dangerous and devastating ingredients that can be found in our foods and supermarkets. Trans fats occur naturally in foods such as beef, lamb, and whole fat dairy products (in small amounts), but some amounts of trans fat come from a processed version. These trans fats are created by an industrial process which adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oil. This processing allows these liquid oils to become solid. You may ask why this would be done? What is the benefit? Trans fats were invented as a way to extend the shelf life of foods and enhance flavor. Large food corporations benefit from the use of these trans fats due to the ability to produce processed foods that can be shipped all the way across the world and sit on store shelves for months at a time before spoiling. This increases profit margins and allows them to mass produce products to all corners of the globe. Food products that commonly contain trans fats are margarine, shortening, fried foods like french fries and fried chicken, doughnuts, cookies, pastries, cupcakes, breakfast cereals, frozen dinners, peanut butter, and crackers.
What Do Trans Fats Mean for Your Health?
These trans fats are incredibly unhealthy in comparison to their unprocessed liquid vegetable oil counterparts. Trans fats are clearly the reason for the high incidence of heart disease in America and other developed countries. Trans fats when in the body have been found to lower HDL (good cholesterol), raise large particle LDL (bad cholesterol), and actively clog arteries throughout the body. Trans fats have also been proven to be highly pro-inflammatory within the body (Please read my article on the anti-inflammatory diet below to understand the devastating effects of inflammation in the body). All of these factors have been proven to specifically cause heart disease within people of any age and ethnicity. Clogged arteries can lead to heart attack, stroke, peripheral arterial disease, and numerous other health ailments. Trans Fats also have a half-life of 51 days, meaning at 75 days, there is still 25% of the substance in your body. So in summation, if you have learned nothing else so far I hope that you have at least learned that Trans Fats are BAD. They are bad in every form yet continue to be found in a large percentage of foods at our grocery stores. They are a major reason that we, they United States, continues to have such a high rate of heart disease within our country regardless of how much money is being spent on health care. It all starts with our food source.
How to Avoid Trans Fats
Now to discuss reading and understanding food labels in order to avoid them. This should be easy enough because trans fats are always labeled just like calories, saturated fats, carbohydrates, protein, and sugar..... Right???? WRONG!!! There are tricks that the food industry can play in order to still advertise that a food has "0g of trans fats". A labeling law was passed by the FDA and it states that if a food contains less than .5g of trans fats it can be listed as containing "0 trans fats". So what did food companies do? Many foods which had 1.4g of trans fats for example were now said to be 3 servings rather than 1. This put the trans fat count per serving under .5g and the food could now legally be labeled and advertised as contained "0g of trans fats". The problem remains that many people eat more than the recommended serving size as well as the fact that the example food now contains 1.4g of trans fats. This is a significant amount especially when considering most recommendations are that you should consume less than 5g per day or according to the Center for Disease Control "as low as possible". So first look at the label for 0g of trans fats but then if it says 0g you must do a double check. Your second step will be to look at the ingredients list for the words "partially hydrogenated" or "shortening" this is an aka for trans fats. If your food product contains one of these ingredients then it means that per serving it contains less than .5g but still contains trans fats nonetheless. Check out the picture above of a food product that advertises "0g of trans fats" but then has a circled ingredient of partially hydrogenated oils and vegetable shortening. The easiest way to avoid these is by eating a whole foods diet and avoiding any and all processed foods. As more and more of these major food companies continue to advertise that they are making foods healthier for the public and point to the cutting of trans fats amounts in their products, you as the consumer must be smarter. This is a labeling trick as proved above. Most if not all have not truly lowered trans fats in their products. If a bag of broccoli says "ingredients: broccoli" then of course you're safe, but if it says broccoli and 30 other ingredients, you'd better start checking for trans fats and other harmful chemical additives. Buying locally also helps as it proves mass producing and food engineering for longer lasting foods is not supported by the public.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.
- Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2005.
- Food and Drug Administration 2003. Food Labeling: Trans Fatty Acids. Nutrient Content Claims and Health Claims. Department of Health and Human Services, Federal Register. 68 (133): 41433-41506. 354: 1601–1613.
- EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition, and Allergies (NDA) (2010). "Scientific opinion on dietary reference values for fats". EFSA Journal 8 (3): 1461.