Updated: Feb 23, 2019
What is it?
Trans fat, a kind of industrially made fat by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil in a process called hydrogenation. The whole idea is make the food taste better and last longer. And they are cheap to produce, making them a popular raw material for those in food business.
Why is it harmful?
It is technically the worst kind of 'nutrient' ever. It offers no health benefits whatsoever and is toxic in many ways. It is the only undisputed 'bad boy' as far as food is concern.
Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels (double whammy), increase triglycerides in the bloodstream and promote systemic inflammation. In turn, this can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
There are also suggestions that the negative consequences of trans fat consumption go beyond the cardiovascular risk, e.g. cancer and mental health, but due to insufficient evidence I shall not discuss them for now.
It is therefore recommended that trans fatty acid intake be as low as possible.
Where are they found?
Many processed foods contain trans fats. It is most commonly found in fried foods, instant noodles, doughnuts, margarine, shortenings and many baked goods such as cookies, pies, crackers and pizza dough. So places like confectionery stores and fast food restaurants, snack shelves at supermarket are some of the places you might want to avoid if you are concerned. More suggestions are given below. Tough, I know.
Although a way to determine if a food contains trans fat is to read the nutrition facts label, when a food does not contain more than half a gram of trans fat, however, it is not required to be listed on the label. In short, it means that when something claim '0' trans fat, it does not literally mean so. Anything that says below 0.5g of it can be labelled as '0'. Hence, you might want to search the ingredient list for the term "partially hydrogenated oil","hydrogenated," or "shortening." It means the product contains trans fat.
the term "partially hydrogenated oil","hydrogenated," or "shortening." It means the product contains trans fat.
Then there is Natural Trans Fat
Trans fat also occurs naturally in food products from ruminant animals (e.g. milk, butter, cheese, etc.). And they are chemically different in structure.They are formed when bacteria in the animal's stomach digest grass. Several review studies have concluded that a moderate intake of such trans fats does not appear to be harmful, unlike the chemical version.
In fact one of the most well-known ruminant trans fat is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is found in relatively large amounts in dairy fat from grass-fed cows, which is healthy and linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. The drawback is that some of these products contain a fair amount of saturated fat, which is both a friend and foe at the same time, as far as its impact on health in concerned. Having said that, more and more studies are surfacing, pointing to the healthful aspect of saturated fat. Will cover more on that in future.
8 easy steps to avoid trans fats (man-made version)
Choose a soft spread over a hard margarine (cooking margarine). Most spreads today are made with less than 1% trans fat.
Avoid buying commercial/pre-packaged chips, crackers, pudding cups, and popcorn cakes, slices, donuts, buns, croissants, biscuits, muffins, quiches and pies, and frozen pizza.
While trying to make your own baked goods is healthier, many commercial cake and muffin mixes contain trans fat. Again remember to check the label or for products that list they have no trans fat or hydrogenated oils.
Usually the cheaper the product the more chance it contains trans fat. Be vigilant and avoid them.
Avoid deep-fried foods. They often contain trans fat. This includes foods that are deep fried and then frozen, or fried foods that you buy in restaurants. Go for baked or grilled food instead.
Fancy instant noodles? These are as unhealthy as they are cheap and delicious. One reason they're so filling is because they are packed with trans fats, not to mention a good dose of sodium. Eat them infrequently.
Cut out non-dairy creamer. They often contain partially hydrogenated oils. Use diary versions like milk.
Eliminate frozen and creamy beverages. Creamy coffees, milkshakes, hot chocolates, and ice cream-based drinks can contain high amounts of trans fat.Is your daily diet like: donuts for breakfast and coffee with creamer; fast food with shake for lunch; and supermarket bought pizza for dinner. If so, you are a walking time bomb.
And if you truly value and want health, you really have to compromise on the taste part for now until you have gotten used to it. So you can't really have your cake and eat it. Sorry.
p/s: Alright, alright, like maybe once a while if you must.
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