I’ll be honest, there’s not much that scares me. One thing that does: Trans-Fats. You have no doubt heard the name. You might have even seen it on food labels before and not known much about it or why it’s in food. However there is somewhat of a dark secret in the food industry. Trans-Fat Terror is real. They know full well the health issues caused after long exposure to foods that have high levels of trans-fats in them. This is one thing that honestly makes me angry, both as a fitness professional and as a human being. Secondly the lack of action worries me. Governing bodies around the world and food manufacturers worldwide are doing nothing.
Trans Fat Terror – What Are Trans Fats?
Trans-fats are fatty acids. Fatty acids, together with glycerine, are the building blocks of all fats and oils. Trans-fatty acids are unsaturated. They are not like the “good” unsaturated fatty acids found in fish and vegetable oils. Instead, they behave similarly to saturated fats in the body and have similar health issues.
Trans-fats can be found naturally in meat and milk from certain animals. In addition, they are a product of fats and oils altered by industrial processes, such as hydrogenation. Hydrogenation is widely used to solidify liquid vegetable oils to make products such as margarines and shortenings. This process involves adding by hydrogen to the oils.
Trans-fats are NOT formed through deep frying food in vegetable oils. Commercially produced fats such as margarine spreads, fats used in deep frying and fats used in pastry doughs, are likely to contain some Trans-fats.
Trans Fat Terror – Uses Of Trans Fats
Trans fats are used in food for two main reasons. First, to preserve the length of shelf life in a food. Second, to increase the taste (fat tastes good, to most people).
Have you heard the stories about the products of major fast food corporations products undergoing lab tests? These products can stay in a fridge for up to a year with no mold growing on it. This is because of trans fat.
Trans Fat Terror – Good Fats & Bad Fats
Some fats are good for us and can help reduce the “bad” type of cholesterol that causes a health problems. These good fat include polyunsaturated, monounsaturated fats; omega-3, 6 and 9 or a complex of all three.
Both trans fats and saturated fats increase the levels of “bad” cholesterol. Trans fats also decreasing the levels of “good” fats. This can cause a number of serious health problems long term, which I will discuss shortly.
Although there are different levels of consumption in each country around the world, I may suggest that there is no SAFE level or a level that I would consider acceptable. I believe Trans fats to be absolutely unbeneficial to anyone’s nutritional intake. Hence, trans fat terror.
Trans Fat Terror – Known Side Effects
1. Coronary Heart Disease (main effect)
The primary health risk associated with heavy consumption of trans-fats is coronary heart disease. A comprehensive review of studies of trans fats was published in 2006 in the New England Journal of Medicine. This reports a strong and reliable connection between trans-fat consumption and CHD. In effect, this report came to a specific conclusion. On a “per calorie” basis, trans-fats appear to increase the risk of CHD more than any other macronutrient. This study estimates that between 30,000 and 100,000 cardiac deaths per year in the United States alone are attributable to the consumption of Trans-fats.
2. Alzheimer’s’ Disease
Does the intake of trans fatty acids and saturated fats promote the development of Alzheimer’s disease? A study published in Neurology in February 2003 suggested that this may be the case.
There is no scientific consensus that consumption of trans-fats significantly increases cancer risks across the board. The American Cancer Society sates that a relationship between trans-fat and cancer “has not been determined”. One study has found a positive connection between trans-fats and prostate cancer. However, a larger study found a correlation between trans-fats and a significant decrease in high-grade prostate cancer. An increased intake of Trans-fatty acids may raise the risk of breast cancer by 75%.
There is growing concern that the risk of type 2 diabetes increases trans fat consumption. However a general consensus has not yet been reached. For example, one study found that risk is higher for these in the highest quartile of trans-fat consumption. Another study has found no diabetes risk once other factors such as total fat intake and BMI were accounted for.
Research indicates that trans-fat may increase weight gain and abdominal fat, despite a similar caloric intake. A six year experiment studied the effects of monkeys fed a trans-fat diet. They gained 7.2% of their body weight. This was compared to 1.8% for monkeys on a mono-unsaturated fat diet. Obesity is frequently linked to trans-fat in popular media. This is generally in the context of eating too many calories. However, there is not a strong scientific consensus connecting trans-fat and obesity. It’s true that the six year experiment did find such a link. However, it was concluded that “under controlled feeding conditions, long-term TFA consumption was an independent factor in weight gain”. TFAs enhanced intra-abdominal deposition of fat, even in the absence of caloric excess.
6. Liver Dysfunction
Trans-fats are metabolized differently by the liver than other fats and interfere with delta 6 desaturase. Delta 6 desaturase is an enzyme involved in converting essential fatty acids to arachidonic acid and prostaglandins, both of which are important to your bodies functioning cells.
7. Infertility in women
Regarding infertility, we will look at one study conducted in 2007. It measured 2% increases in the intake of energy from Trans Fats. For each 2% increase, there was a 73% greater risk of ovulatory infertility.
– Spanish researchers analyzed the diets of 12,059 people over six years and found these who ate the most trans fats had a 48% higher risk of depression than these who did not eat trans fats.
Health Effects of High Cholesterol
Here are just some of the health effects of having High Cholesterol: Coronary Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, Angina, Irregular Heart Rhythm, Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA, or mini-stroke), Heart Attack, Stroke, Peripheral Artery Disease.
Trans Fat Terror – Reading Labels
Eating too much fat (particularly saturated fat) can be harmful. The best advice for a healthy diet is to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, and eat fewer foods containing harmful fats. For example, incorporate low fat dairy products and lean meat into your diet.
The nutrition information panel on food packages will show how much harmful fat is present in food. For example, 1g of saturated fat per 100g (or less) is little and 3g of saturated fat is a lot. Using the quantity per 100g column on the nutritional information panel means you’re comparing like for like.
You can replace foods containing harmful fats with foods containing mono or poly-unsaturated fats. Foods containing these “good fats” include fresh and processed fish, nuts, and avocados. They also include seeds and most vegetable oils like canola, peanut, sunflower, olive, sesame, and so on.
Manufacturers do not have to tell you the level of trans-fat on the label. Until then, what are your best chances of minimizing the amount you eat? Avoid deep-fried foods and take out. Avoid refined sugar containing foods such as biscuits, cakes, pies and sweets. Choose a spread for your toast and sandwiches that’s low in saturated and trans-fats such as avocado.
Written by Adrian Ambrose