Trans fat.. though it sounds like a new style of EDM music the name itself conjures up a lot of confusion and fear.
Is this justified? What’s the deal with trans fat and how can it have an impact on your health?
Your Life In A Package
If over the years you have consumed a lot of “foods” that have come in packages or boxes there’s a pretty good bet that you have consumed trans fat.
But what is a trans fat?
Trans fat have always been known as partially hydrogenated oil and that is how they used to be listed on ingredients. They are now classified as trans fat and come from vegetable oils that have been hydrogenated.
This is the process of adding hydrogen atoms to a liquid substance so that they remain solid at room temperature. In the case of trans fat is taking a vegetable oil (usually canola or soybean) and making it into a more solid, usable form.
Do Me A Solid..
What is the benefit of turning something from a liquid to a solid?
When you have a substance in a solid form is becomes more pliable and adjustable for different situations, in the case of food it allows for higher temperature baking while providing a nice browning effect. They can also tolerate very high heat allowing for deep frying.
And probably most important of all when it comes to food manufacturers; it has an incredibly long shelf life.
Add to this that trans fat are also cheap to produce and you can create products that can stay on shelves for a super extended period of time leading to less waste and lower overhead costs overall.
With trans fat food designers are able to manipulate mouth feel and texture in foods which is a large part of what makes food appeal and not appeal to us. Generally when you do not like a food it is more related to texture issues as opposed to the actual taste..
Just think about some of the things you don’t enjoy and it’s probably the idea of the mouth feel of the food as you chew it that makes you avoid it.
Don’t get me started on peas…
With the onslaught of colorful packaged foods that override our senses and make kids go ballistic in the cereal aisle it’s easy to forget the idea of using hydrogenation goes back quite a long way.
The first use of the new technology of hydrogenation was by Procter & Gamble in 1909 or around the same time Larry King graduated high school..
In 1911 they introduced “Crisco” to the market forever changing the way people would bake and prepare foods. Crisco was made from hydrogenating cottonseed oil and is in fat where we get the name Crisco, modified from “crystallized cotton seed oil.”
What Makes Trans Fat Dangerous?
A trans fat is like a foreign invader in you, it is a substance that the body simply does not recognize nor know how to process. Trans fats essentially turn into sludge in your arteries the way old motor oil does in a car. This makes trans fat a very real threat for coronary heart disease and can increase your risk of:
- alzheimers disease
- liver dysfunction
- infertility in women
Trans fats hit you with a double whammy in regard to coronary heart disease as they lower your good HDL cholesterol while elevating the bad LDL and no one was looking at these effects until the 1940’s.
Correlation between trans fat and cancer began in the 1940’s and it was not until 1988 where the connection was made to coronary heart disease.
In the mid 90’s it was understood that trans fats were causing 30,000 deaths a year from heart disease and the USDA continued to promote them up until 2005!
In 2006 it was estimated that the death count was approaching 100,000 a year.
How Can You Avoid Trans Fats?
Like I mentioned earlier if you have spent your life eating packaged, processed or boxed “foods” you can be pretty sure you have consumed trans fats. They generally can be found in the following:
- cookies, crackers, cakes, pie crusts, pizza dough and some breads
- various margarines and shortening
- pre-mixed items such as cake and pancake mix
- pretty much all fried foods
- microwave or movie popcorn
- frozen/packaged dinners
You have to also be pretty careful reading labels. Have you noticed many foods will have have their nutritional information listed and provide multiple servings even though you’re holding a single item?
This might be to hide trans fats; In the United States a if a food has less than 0.5 grams in a serving, the label can read 0 grams. And over time this can add up..
Wrapping It Up
As usual the best strategy when it comes to your food is keep it real. Avoiding packaged and processed foods will greatly help you avoid this man made disaster we call trans fats. Ideally you don’t want to eat anything that has a nutritional profile on the back or a list of ingredients.
If you do find yourself eating things of this nature be aware of the ingredient lists. Watch out for those multiple servings per item and also look out for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil listed as well. That food could contain some trans fat as well.
So remember keep it real and keep it fresh..
Like I tried to do in high school but failed miserably…