In this age of agri-business, it is more important than ever to evaluate our diets and make sure we are taking care of ourselves by eating healthfully. Often, our lives are quite busy, taking care of aging parents, children, grandchildren, or a dependent spouse. However, this is no reason to neglect our own nutritional concerns. Processed food is so accessible and quick, that we often make the wrong choice, in an effort to save time. But is that choice doing more harm than good?
One ingredient in processed food that has recently been a hot topic is trans fat. Although it has been “decreased” in some foods, it is still a major health hazard that everyone should be aware of, no matter what your age.
Many nutrition-conscious people removed products containing “partially hydrogenated oils” (trans fats) from their kitchens years before they were newsworthy. This now seems slightly easier to do, because manufacturers are putting “NO TRANS FATS” on their labels and on the front of their packaging, so that you will buy their products.
Unfortunately, many of these products still contain partially hydrogenated oils. It’s just that the federal government allows the manufacturer to write “NO TRANS FATS” if the amount per serving is less than .5 grams.
This is a problem for two reasons: One, very few Americans, eat 1 serving. And two, since trans fat affects us at the cellular level, even a small portion of it may have long term health ramifications.
By the way, did you know that trans fats are banned in
Denmark, and rarely found in any European country, and more recently have been outlawed in some cities including Boston and ? New York
Despite many labels now touting “NO TRANS FATS”, they are still in some foods in small amounts, so it is important to read the list of ingredients and avoid anything containing partially hydrogenated oils or vegetable shortening. Trans fats are still rampant in restaurant food, because they are cheap and have a long shelf life. When you go out to eat, ask the manager if they use partially hydrogenated oil or margarine in cooking and tell them you would prefer pure olive oil or butter. Make it very clear that you don’t want your food cooked in margarine, and you don’t want margarine added to it. Yes, butter is a saturated fat, but our cells know what to do with butter. In fact, cell membranes utilize saturated fat to maintain their integrity. Cells don’t know how to metabolize trans fat, and because of its rampant use in the last 20 years, we have seen a huge increase in cancer, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Trans fats are deposited into the tissues and affect how organs in the body function. Here are some of the ramifications of trans fat consumption, based on both human and animal studies:
· Trans fats increase blood sugar levels. They decrease the ability of insulin to bind to the sugar we eat. This may be why children are developing diabetes sooner. For example, children get up in the morning and eat some cereal containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and lots of sugar, (probably high fructose corn syrup, which is also metabolized differently than natural sugar) covered with skim milk – (if the milk had some fat in it such as 2%, sugar absorption into the bloodstream would be slowed down). This low fat, high sugar, breakfast causes a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, and the trans fats interfere with insulin’s ability to bind with the sugar and take it into the cells to be metabolized. This leads to early hunger, a feeling of fatigue, and a craving for more sugar/carbohydrate… and the cycle repeats itself all day long.
· Trans fats cause alterations in fat-cell size, and fat cell numbers, increasing the risk of obesity.
· Trans fats decrease immune function – the body’s ability to fight disease.
· Trans fat may precipitate asthma. A diet high in vegetable oil and trans fat, and low in saturated fat, alters the make up of lung surfactant. Lung surfactant enables the lungs to work, and it is 100% saturated fat.
· Trans fats increase “bad”, LDL, cholesterol, and decrease “good”, HDL, cholesterol.
· Trans fats have been shown to make blood platelets “stickier”, (more likely to clot, and clog arteries causing stroke and heart attack.)
· Trans fats increase lipoprotein (a). Lipoprotein (a) increases the risk for arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), by 2-3 times. Coincidentally, saturated fat lowers lipoprotein (a).
· Trans fats decrease the amount of cream in breast milk which is vital for growth and brain development in babies.
Happily, there is an alternative to trans fat. It is more expensive, and has a shorter shelf life, but is a healthier alternative. It is called saturated fat. Used in moderation, in the absence of trans fat, natural saturated fat has many health giving benefits.
Stay tuned… the Discerning Dietitian’s next article will be on different forms of fat and their health giving benefits!
Eat the Best; Leave the Rest!
Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol by Mary Enig, PhD,
Press – 1-800-370-8100. Bethesda
The Oiling of
, by Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. (You can get this on the web. Go into Google and enter title and authors. It is about 30 pages.) America
The Schwarzbein Principle, by Diana Schwarzbein, MD, Health Communications, Inc.
The Cholesterol Myths, by
, PhD, New Trends Publishing Inc. Uffe Ravnskov, MD