The hidden fats in your everyday meal or snack
You may be aware that processed foods and junk foods are bad for you, but do you know why? Numerous dietary culprits in these foods make them unhealthy but one group that has recently come to the fore as being particularly villainous on your health are trans fatty acids or trans fats.
Trans fats play fiendishly on your cholesterol levels increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Trans fat is made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation. They are made of the same building blocks as non-trans fats but have a different shape, with the chemical bonds being in the trans rather than cis configuration, hence the name.
This makes them more solid than oil and therefore less likely to become rancid which is why they are added in foods, to increase their shelf like and have a less greasy feel.
In processed foods, trans fats may be labeled as partially hydrogenated oil , hydrogenated fat or oil or shortening . Confusingly, fully hydrogenated oils are not trans fats.
Trans fats are found in a multitude of everyday foods you buy from the supermarket including baked goods such as doughnuts, biscuits, snacks such as chocolates, crackers and even cereals. Restaurants also use oils with trans fats and fast foods can be abundant with trans fats.
In 2006, McDonalds admitted to its French fries having a third more trans fats than what they had previously stated, causing a furor in the United States and according to a news article by CNN making it harder to trust McDonald s .
Trans fats in processed foods are now recognized to be so detrimental to your health, that from 2003, labeling of trans fats in foods has become obligatory in most countries in Europe and the US
However, in most countries it is only obligatory to label the presence of trans fat if it contains more than 0.5g which presents a caveat as any thing less than 0.5 grams per serving can be listed as 0 grams trans fat on the food label.
Although trans fats occur naturally in some animal and dairy products, their deleterious effects on your health are not thought to be as marked as those prepared by the processed food industry.
Knowing how trans fats affect your vascular system, might stop you ever picking up a Digestive biscuit again.
Their effects on your cholesterol levels are dangerous because they increase your Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which transports bad cholesterol throughout your body and can lead to a dangerous build up of fatty deposits or plaques in your arteries causing them to harden and narrow.
This in turn can lead to a disease condition called Atherosclerosis or thickening of artery walls, resulting in reduced blood flow through your arteries, possible chest pain and other symptoms of cardiovascular disease.
If these plaques tear, a blood clot may occur which can break free, block an artery downstream and stop blood flow to your heart leading to a heart attack, or if the artery is in your brain, it can lead to a stroke.
Adding insult to injury, trans fats are also thought to directly damage the cells lining your blood vessels, leading to inflammation and increasing the chances of fatty blockages occurring in these vessels. Furthermore, trans fats reduce the good High-density lipoprotein HDL which normally picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.
Nutritional guidelines recommend that 30 percent of calories should come from fats with a maximum of 7% coming from saturated fats while the WHO has recently recommended that trans fats be limited to less than 1% of overall energy intake.
Mono unsaturated fats are the good guys found in olive oil and canola oils, as are unsaturated fats such as omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts, fish and other foods.
With increased awareness of trans fats effects, trashing them will hopefully become commonplace, not only in your kitchen or shopping basket, but also in the processed foods world.