The media has been buzzing about the negative health impact that trans-fat (a.k.a. partially hydrogenated oils) can have on the human body. Some cities, such as New York have even gone as far as to require all restaurants to go trans-fat free. This is a very drastic measure and upon further investigation it seems necessary to protect our health.
Trans-fats are produced when a hydrogen molecule is added to vegetable oil. The hydrogenation process makes liquid oil solid at room temperature. Companies choose to use trans-fats because they are cheap, increase shelf life and create flavor stability.
The increased intake of trans-fats does not come without a price. Trans-fat consumption is directly related to increased LDL (less desirable form of cholesterol) and decreased HDL (the “good” cholesterol) cholesterol. This can be linked to the increase in heart disease over the last 30 years.
Other chronic conditions such as cancer and diabetes are also related to high trans-fat intake. Hydrogenated oils interfere with the insulin receptor sites on cell membranes that can trigger type II diabetes. They also interfere with the enzymes the body produces to protect itself against cancer. If this information is not convincing enough, one study showed that women who consume trans-fats weighed more than women who did not consume any trans-fats, even though their caloric intake was the same.
Following are some simple steps you can take to cut the trans out of your fat intake:
- Eat whole foods – this means choosing food as close to nature as possible. The most common foods that hydrogenated oils are found in are highly processed (margarine, cookies, candy, cakes, crackers, baked goods, breads, fried potatoes, chips, microwave popcorn, peanut butter, and salad dressing) and restaurant foods that are cooked in hydrogenated oils, including all deep fried foods. Focusing on eating fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and high-quality proteins will greatly reduce exposure to trans-fat.
- Read labels – check the back of food packages for the words ‘partially-hydrogenated’ oil or ‘hydrogenated’ oil. You can not count on the new labeling law to tell if a product is trans-fat free because the government allows 0.5g per serving to be considered trans-fat free. Many companies are simply changing their serving sizes to get below this limit. In other words, just because the trans-fat number is “0” on the label does not mean that the food is free of trans-fat.
- Home cook’ in – try to prepare as many meals as possible at home. This allows control of the products and oils that are used.
- Ask – when dining out, ask the server what type of oil is used for cooking various dishes or if there is trans-fat in their baked products. If they don’t know, don’t eat it. Trans-fat can also be avoided if food is cooked in chicken or vegetable broth instead of oil. Most chain restaurants provide ingredient information on their website.
The bottom line – reducing intake of trans-fat not only helps your heart and waistline, it will also increase YOUR shelf life.
Trans fatty acids in the food supply: A comprehensive report covering 60 years of research. Enig, Mary G, PhD, 2nd Edition, Enig Associates, Inc, Silver Spring, MD, 1995.