They’re called trans fatty acids and they’re up to no good. In 2002, a report from the National Academy of Sciences stated “trans fatty acids are not essential and provide no known benefit to human health. ” They also reported that these so-called “trans fats” not only increase “bad cholesterol levels” (LDL), they also decrease “good cholesterol” levels (HDL). This results in a substantial increase in the risk of coronary heart disease.
Chemically, trans fats are not prone to oxidation. The essential, omega fats (those fats which are required for life) are highly prone to oxidation and go bad very quickly. If you were to put out a dish of raw walnuts, you would notice that they begin to smell like oil paint after as little as a week. This is because the essential fats contained in the nuts are becoming rancid. Similarly, a stick of butter left at room temperature will become rancid while a stick of margarine will not.
Trans fats are artificially manufactured through a process called hydrogenation. This process was used to turn vegetable oils into the margarines and vegetable shortenings, which gained popularity in the early and mid-20th century. Advocates claimed these oils were healthier than natural, saturated fats like butter. Economically, trans fats offer great benefits to the manufacturers and retailers of products that are made from them. Unlike natural fats, trans fats can sit on a shelf almost indefinitely. Because of this, many processed foods were made with trans fats until recently when doing so became a negative factor with educated consumers. However, there are still many products on the market which are made with trans fats so be sure the read the nutritional information label when you purchase any pre-packaged food.
Animal products contain small amounts of trans fats, but the US National Dairy Council has asserted that these trans fats are different from the trans fats manufactured from vegetable oils. From these sources, trans fats may be less than 5% of the total fat content. Plants do not contain trans fats, but many processed vegetarian foods do. This is because they make the products flavorful and longer lasting than products made with natural polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Such factors make the decision to use trans fats in the processing of packaged food an economic one and certainly not a nutritional one. Because of their intended use, these products may have trans fat at nearly 50% of the total fat content.
The consumption of trans fats has also been linked to several forms of cancer, according to a growing body of science. Because of this, and the other health risks associated with the consumption of trans fats, it is important that you read ingredient labels and are also aware of where trans fats may be found. Do your best to limit, or eliminate, trans fats from your diet. Doing so will help you protect your own health and the health of those you know and love.
Dave Saunders is a nutrition consultant and national speaker. You can read more about health and wellness at http://www.glycowellness.com and http://www.glycoblog.com .