I’ll be honest, there’s not much that scares me really but one thing that does is Trans-fats. You may have heard the name being thrown around; 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 that they know full well of the health issues that are caused after long exposure to foods that have high levels of Trans-fats in them. This is one thing that honestly as a fitness professional first makes me angry, and as a human. Secondly worries me that so little lack of action is being taken by governing bodies around the world and food manufacturers worldwide.
Trans-fats are fatty acids. Fatty acids, together with glycerine, are the building blocks of all fats and oils. Trans-fatty acids are unsaturated but unlike the “good” unsaturated fatty acids found in fish and vegetable oils, 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 and as 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 and 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 fats are used in food for two main reason, firstly to preserve the length of shelf life in a food and secondly to increase the taste (fat tastes good, to most people).
This is why when you hear stories about major fast food corporations products under going lab tests they are able to stay in a fridge for up to a year without so much as a spec of mould growing on it.
Some fats are good for us and can help reduce the “bad” type of cholesterol that causes a lot of health problems. These good fat include polyunsaturated, monounsaturated fats; omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 or a complex of all three.
Both trans fats and saturated fats increases the levels of “bad” cholesterol, with 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.
Some 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 reports a strong and reliable connection between Trans-fat consumption and CHD. Coming to the conclusion that on a “per calorie” basis, Trans-fats appear to increase the risk of CHD more than any other macronutrient, conferring a substantially increased risk of low levels of consumption. This means that you don’t need to eat a large amount to get the same effect. 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
- A study published in the archives of neurology in February 2003 suggested that the intake of both trans fatty acids and saturated fats promote the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
- 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 indicated that Trans-fat may increase weight gain and abdominal fat, despite a similar caloric intake. A six year experiment revealed that monkeys fed a Trans-fat diet gained %7.2 of their body weight, as compared to %1.8 for monkeys on a mono-unsaturated fat diet. Although obesity is frequently linked to Trans-fat in popular media, this is generally in the context of eating too many calories; there is not a strong scientific consensus connecting Trans-fat and obesity. Although the six year experiment did find such a link, concluding 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
- One study in 2007 found, “Each %2 increase in the intake of energy from Trans Unsaturated fats, as opposed to that from carbohydrates, was associated with a %73 greater risk of ovulatory infertility.
- Spanish researchers analysed the diets of 12,059 people over six years and found these who ate the most trans fats had a 48 precent 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.
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 producst 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.
Foods containing harmful fats also can be replaced by foods with containing mono or poly-unsaturated fats.
Foods containing these “good fats” include fresh and processed fish, nuts, avocados, seeds and most vegetable oils like canola, peanut, sunflower, olive, sesame, ect.
Until manufacturers are required to tell you the level of Trans-fat on the label, your best chances of minimising the amount you eat are to: Avoid deep-fried foods and take away, 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. Take care for now.
Written by Adrian Ambrose