The Good, the Bad, the Ugly on Trans Fats

Funny how knowledge changes the way you eat and what you think of as a good, bad or downright ugly food. Consider how the perception of trans-fats has changed over the years.

When I was a little girl we didn’t know what a trans-fat was. Yet trans-fats were all over the place in many of the prepared foods we ate. It is commonly in any food that lists partially hydrogenated oil of any kind on the label. We only knew about foods high in cholesterol, like butter. We were convinced that foods high in cholesterol were the enemy. We eagerly traded eating butter for margarine.

But most stick margarine was and still is made with partially hydrogenated fats which are high in trans-fatty acids. We thought our parents saved us from the horrible, cholesterol ridden butter by buying us margarine. Since we didn’t know the health consequences of trans-fatty acids, it was a preferable choice to cholesterol.

Food companies jumped on the trans-fat bandwagon to provide foods with a longer shelf life and switched their fat of choice to some form of partially hydrogenated oil, which contains trans-fatty acids. We were glad that our cookies, crackers, breads and mixes stayed fresh on the shelf a long, long time. It was good.

Oh how times have changed.

Our eyes were recently opened to the health consequences of eating those “trans-fatty acids” in our foods. Research has revealed that trans-fatty acids contribute to some cancers levels.

Also, according to authors of a study from Harvard and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, scientific literature shows that trans-fatty acid increases serum levels of LDL cholesterol levels(“bad” cholesterol), reduces the levels of HDL-cholesterol, and can also promote inflammation that can cause endothelial dysfunction and can also influence other risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (CVD).

Another way trans fats could affect our health is in weight control. The results of a study study done on monkeys was revealed at the annual session of the American Diabetes Association in Washington DC earlier this year. It indicated that a diet rich in trans fatty acids may increase weight gain around the abdomen.

Now armed with this new knowledge, we can make a new choice about how we view foods that contain trans-fats. For many people with wellness goals, it’s means a switch to unhydrogenated fats like cold pressed olive oil, canola and peanut oil, and polyunsaturated fats like safflower, sesame and sunflower seed oil in moderation. It also means reading food labels to be aware of the ingredients in the foods we choose and the choices available.

Also it’s good to know that there are trans-fat free margarines on the market that are also low in saturated fats. Margarine can be a trans-fat free choice.

The outcry against trans-fatty acids has grown to the point that the health commissioner of the city of New York has launched a campaign to get restaurants and food suppliers to stop using partially hydrogenated fats which contain trans fatty acids. In 2004 Denmark passed legislation that effectively removed trans-fatty acids from their food supply.

Many prepared foods in the U.S. still contain trans-fats even with all the research. Under new FDA guidelines, as of January 1, 2006 trans-fats are required to be listed on food labels in the United States. Now you can at least read your labels know whether or not the foods you’re buying contain trans-fats.



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