I remember a couple of years back when fast food Sunday treats were the norm for most families. Then slowly, as people became more health-conscious, families began switching to healthier dining options with less processed foods on the menu. So for those gen Ys who found fast-food banned from the family menu, I will give you the 3 reasons why we made the switch. This may also help those who have probably heard that “processed fats are not good for you” without knowing the reasons behind this. So next time you want to pick some fried or baked foods from a random store you will take the time to find out whether unhealthy Trans fats are on the ingredient list.
What are Trans Fats?
Trans fats are a form of unsaturated fat that can be found both from natural as well as artificial sources. Natural trans fats are found in meat from ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats. Natural Trans fats are created naturally through digestion in the ruminant’s stomach and will be present in dairy products as well as beef and lamb cuts. For the trans fats that occur naturally, there is not much to worry about. Science has shown that these trans fats have a decent safety profile when consumed in moderate amounts by humans. The common trans fat that occurs naturally is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is mostly found in dairy. It has been found to have some therapeutic benefits including helping in weight loss and bodybuilding. Consequently, CLA is usually marketed as a dietary supplement.
Artificial trans fats, on the other hand, may cause more harm than good. They are commonly referred to as industrial fats or partially hydrogenated fats. Artificial trans fats are derived from vegetable sources and they are artificially altered to remain solid at room temperature so that they keep for longer. Artificial Trans fats can be found in fried foods such as doughnuts, and baked goods such as cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, and cookies. Science has shown that artificial trans fats have serious health risks that should dissuade you from using them.
Trans fats are bad for your heart health
Artificial trans fats may increase your risk of heart disease, as some clinical studies have shown. Vanaspati ghee and margarine have high concentrations of artificial trans fats. It’s been revealed that people who consume high amounts of artificial trans fats are likely to have increased bad cholesterol amounts without a corresponding increase in good cholesterol. Other fats, on the other hand, increase both bad and good cholesterol amounts. According to CDC reports 2019, high levels of low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) may increase one’s risk for heart disease and stroke. A number of significant studies have shown that consumption of artificial trans fats is linked with the development of the cardiovascular disease.
Trans fats have also been shown to damage the inner lining of blood vessels known as the endothelium. A diet rich in hydrogenated fats can lead to impairment in blood vessel function.
Trans Fats could decrease insulin sensitivity and predispose to type 2 diabetes
The relationship between Trans fats and insulin sensitivity is currently murky and further clinical research needs to be conducted to give clear direction. One study conducted by the University of Minnesota in 2006 concluded that “high intakes of trans fats may increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, inconsistencies across studies and methodological problems make it premature to draw definitive conclusions at this time. More experimental research in humans is needed to further address this question.”
However, one large study showed that those who consumed the most trans fats had a 40% higher risk of diabetes. A number of animal studies have also shown a positive correlation between the consumption of artificial trans fats and insulin resistance which increases the likelihood of type 2 diabetes.
Trans Fats Cause Inflammation
Inflammation is a necessary and useful response when injury or infection has occurred. However, chronic inflammation has been linked to the root cause of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and arthritis. A study published in 2002 showed a positive correlation between the consumption of a diet high in hydrogenated fat and the production of inflammatory cytokines that have been associated with atherosclerosis. Other studies have also shown that trans fats increase inflammation, especially in overweight or obese people.
In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of trans fats in food preparation. They “determined that PHOs, the major source of artificial trans fat in the food supply, are no longer “Generally Recognized as Safe,” or GRAS.” However, so many processed foods still contained unhealthy trans fats as the ban has not been implemented to date. Processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil are the richest source of trans fats in the modern diet.
How to limit your intake of unhealthy trans fats
- Adopt a healthy diet that has more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts. These foods are less likely to contain unhealthy trans fats.
- Limit your intake of processed foods made with unhydrogenated oil such as doughnuts, cookies, crackers, muffins, pies, and cakes.
- Cook your food with unhydrogenated vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower or olive oil more often.
- When buying food, read labels carefully and check for any partially hydrogenated items on the ingredients list.
Although natural trans fats from animal products are considered safe when taken in moderate amounts, consuming artificial trans fats regularly could jeopardize your health.
High consumption of artificial trans fats has been linked to long-term inflammation, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease. It’s unfortunate that most Americans are hooked on fast foods which are the biggest culprit for unhealthy trans fats.
- FDA (2018): Trans Fat. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/trans-fat
- NCBI (2014): Trans fatty acids – A risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3955571/
- CDC: Cholesterol myths and facts. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/features/cholesterol-myths-facts/index.html
- NCBI (2007): A prospective study of trans fatty acids in erythrocytes and risk of coronary heart disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17389261
- NCBI (2006): Trans fatty acids, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16958313
- NCBI (2002): Effect of hydrogenated and saturated, relative to polyunsaturated, fat on immune and inflammatory responses of adults with moderate hypercholesterolemia. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11893781