ALL ABOUT TRANS FATS?
Trans fats, or trans fatty acids, are a type of unsaturated fat that acts like saturated fats. That is, they are bad for our heart health because they raise the level of “bad” cholesterol in our blood. Most of the trans fats in our food some 64 percent are created as by-products of the process called hydrogenation, where food manufacturers bubble hydrogen through liquid oils, turning them into solids to make cakes and pastries. This process improves the food’s shelf life, flavor and stability.
Trans fats can also be produced by heating oil, and occur naturally in the meat and milk of ruminant animals such as cows and sheep.
WHY ARE THEY SO BAD FOR US?
Large population studies have shown that people with a high intake of trans fats have higher levels of heart disease. Weight for weight, doctors believes Tran’s fat is much more dangerous than saturated fat. That’s because not only does trans fat like saturated fat increase the level of “bad” or LDL cholesterol in our blood, it has an ability to lower the concentration of “good” or HDL cholesterol, which protects us against heart disease. Replacing trans fats with good fats could cut your risk of heart attack by a whopping 53 percent. Trans fat plays a role in diabetes and may promote allergies in children, but the jury’s still out on this.
WHERE DO WE GET THESE TRANS FATS FROM?
While trans fats occur naturally in some meat and dairy products, it’s not a good idea to severely limit these because then you would be cutting out on other important nutrients. What concerns dietitians most is the trans fat that comes from the manufacturing process. Oils containing trans fats are still widely used in the manufacture of products such as biscuits, cakes, buns and pies, as well as for deep-frying some fast foods. In fat plenty of processed foods have levels high enough to significantly increase the risk of heart disease, if they were eaten regularly.
WHAT DO THEY DO TO THE HEART?
Coronary heart disease is a major cause of death globally. In most cases, it’s caused by a condition called atheroscleroris, where fatty deposits build up on the walls of the arteries, causing them to narrow and interrupt the flow of blood to the heart.
Low-density lipoproteins LDL cholesterol are an important component of these fatty plaques. Studies have shown a clear association between consumption of trans fats and high LDL levels. Trans fats can also promote inflammation and have a role in other risk factors for heart disease.
SO WHICH ARE WORSE: trans fats or saturated fats?
Weight for weight, trans fats are worse. The World Health Organization says that to be healthy, no more than one percent of our daily calories should come from trans fat and we should consume less than ten percent of calories from saturated fats. That means the biggest danger point in our diets is by far saturated fat.
What the terms mean
WE NEED FAT for energy and to absorb vitamins A,D,E, and K and carotenoids. When eaten in moderation, fat is essential for good health and it’s especially important for children up to the age of two. However, some fats are better for us than others. Here’s how to understand what fats are what:
Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced naturally by the body and found in our blood. LDL cholesterol clogs arteries and leads to heart disease, while HDL cholesterol helps to unclog blood vessels.
Polyunsaturated fats help to lower blood cholesterol if your meals are low in saturated fats. Contained in foods such as fish, nuts, polyunsaturated margarines and oils.
Saturated fats raise blood Contained in some foods such as potato chips, manufactured cakes, biscuits and pastries, butter and dairy products.
Monounsaturated fats help to lower blood cholesterol if your meals are low in saturated fats. Contained in foods such as avocado, nuts and monounsaturated margarine and oils.
Trans fats act like saturated fats to raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. Contained in foods which use hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable fats. The terms “saturated” and “unsaturated” refer to the type of molecules in the fat. Saturated molecules have all their bonds used up, so they are more rigid and stable. Unsaturated molecules have some open bonds, resulting in a more reactive, liquid oil.
What’s the case for labeling?
If a product makes a health claim about its fat content for example that it is 97 percent fat-free or that it’s cholesterol- free it has to list its full fat profile. That’s where you’ll see information on fats such as saturated trans, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and total fat. For every other food including those that are likely to have high levels of trans fat the only requirement is to list amount of total and saturated fat.
What can I do to minimize my own trans fat intake?
You can bring down levels of naturally occurring trans fats by trimming fat from meat and choosing lean cuts. “You can have lean meat even on a cholesterol-lowering diet, but make sure you don’t eat the fat.”
Butter contains trans fat and is also high in saturated fat, so using a high quality margarine is an acceptable alternative. Steer clear of manufactured cakes and pastries, particularly chocolate biscuits and doughnuts, which have the highest levels of saturated fats. Other ways of staying healthy are to eat more fruit and vegetables, So you’re less likely to be eating bad fats. Also, choose reduced-fat dairy products and try to avoid toasted mueslis for breakfast.
Restaurants and fast food chains can be health if you choose wisely. Deep-fried foods may contain trans fat, especially if they come from a smaller chain or your local take- away restaurant.