Have A Healthy Heart… Know the real score on TRANS FAT!

Are you too much indulging into doughnuts and cookies? Munching through large bags of chips? How about dining at Fast Food Restaurants more often? If you said yes to any of this, you might want to have a look on your diet from now on. What do these foods have in common you may ask? They are typical examples of products that contain one of the most talked about food-related health concerns, the Trans Fatty Acids or TRANS FATS.

Trans fats are fats found in most common foods. Some are naturally occurring in dairy and meat. Examples of which are animal fats, meat, cheese, ice cream etc. Others are produced when vegetable oils undergo the partial hydrogenation process. This is simply the addition of “hydrogen” into the liquid oil to convert it into semi-solid form for a number of food applications. Food manufacturers normally opt for its use because in doing so, the oil can provide a much longer shelf life to the processed food and may warrant a more stable flavor delivery. Can you imagine eating your favorite cake or pastries with the fat melting and oozing into your plate? How about your bread turning into a sponge when spread with too soft margarine onto it yet having it broken when spread with too hard? Thus, there's a need to alter the oil in the food for us to consume it in its desired texture and consistency. The Department of Health of Westchester County published a list of the Top 10 Trans Fat Foods. These are:

1. Spreads / Margarine
2. Packaged Foods (cake mixes)
3. Soups
4. Fast Food (fries, chicken etc.)
5. Frozen Food
6. Baked Goods (doughnuts, cakes, cookies)
7. Chips & Crackers
8. Breakfast Food (cereals, energy bars)
9. Cookies & Candy
10. Toppings & Dips
(read here if you want the more detailed description of the products)

What makes trans fat more controversial then? There are scientific reports that show how trans fat can be potentially dangerous to human health. The FDA Fact Sheet released in July 9, 2003 stated that there is a direct, proven relationship between diets high in trans fat content and levels of LDL (low density lipoprotein) resulting to an increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). We all know that our blood cholesterol consists of the good and the bad. The HDL (high density lipoprotein) is considered as the healthy one. It removes fat from the arteries thus, preventing it from being blocked. The LDL in contrast is the bad cholesterol; sometimes it is also called the “lousy cholesterol”. It causes the blockage of the arteries leading to heart disease and stroke usually occurring in feet and legs.

But even before trans fat became a big issue in the food industry, we were already alarmed of saturated fats. What’s the difference between these two and why is trans fat considered more alarming than the former? Saturated fat increases bad cholesterol but it has no effect on good cholesterol. Trans fat on the other hand, increases the level of bad cholesterol and at the same time decreases the level of good cholesterol. Thus, its effect is twice as bad as that of saturated fat. To further illustrate the risk, one whose diet is high in trans fat has 132% risks to heart disease. Conversely, one whose diet is high in saturated fat has 32% risks to heart disease. What does it implies then?

More and more this issue requires consumers to become smart buyers. Know what you’re buying, read between the lines of marketing campaigns and peruse the nutrition panel of the product. In most countries, it is now being mandatory to include trans fat content in the packaging label. When the product label says zero trans fat, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no trans fat in the product at all. It may be that the level is beyond the detectable limit and thus can be declared as such. Similarly, it doesn’t also mean that it’s already detrimental to eat the product. Some health advocates considered 1.5% of trans fat as too much. Thus, it’s still important to determine the amount present in the food before strictly banning it from your regular repertoire. If no declaration was made in the nutrient table, the second option is to look at the ingredients list. If the package says it contains “shortening, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, or hydrogenated oil”, indeed the product has trans fat. Note that in this guide, you can also deduce how much trans fat is in there. Since, ingredient declaration is normally written in descending order of predominance (from large amount to small amount based on its percent addition in the formulation), ingredients listed towards the end are the ones added in very small amounts.

In essence, almost all foods have trans fatty acids. Somehow it’s really inevitable not to take them. But clearly, the less saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol we consumed the better. When it comes to our health, the saying “what you don’t know will not harm you” doesn’t logically fit. Isn't it? It is “what you don’t know CAN harm you” that will make more sense. We owe it to ourselves to be well informed. By being informed, it means looking for the right information and getting the facts because only then we can make better, healthier choices.

Want more information? Here’s my favorite link for this issue:

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