Trans Fats represent a special category of unsaturated fats, which have
one thing in common: They are highly detrimental to our health. Most commonly, they
are the result of industrial processing (partial hydrogenation) of vegetable oils. The process consists of adding hydrogen atoms under high pressure to the fatty acid molecules. This
production technology was developed in the early 1900’s, and resulted in the marketing
of margarine and shortenings such as Crisco.
The hallmark of trans fat is the position
of hydrogen atoms on either side of the double carbon-atom bond (the trans isomer
configuration), as opposed to the normal configuration where the hydrogen atoms are on
the same side of the double bond (the cis isomer configuration).
Trans fat has been blamed for the great increase in
cardiovascular disease in recent years. And as time goes by, it is increasingly incriminated in all sorts of ‘health disasters’. Here is a list (which doesn’t claim to be exhaustive):
- Coronary artery disease
- Diabetes type 2
- High cholesterol levels – with the LDL (bad) cholesterol increasing and the HDL (good) cholesterol decreasing.
- Possible connection with prostate cancer and colon cancer
- Liver dysfunction
- Obesity: Fats of this type appear to promote weight gain and increase abdominal fat deposits, despite a
similar calorie intake.
Lately, a concerted effort has been made to ban trans fats from the food production industry. Reading the nutrition labels of food products in the grocery store, you will find that many of them indicate zero content of trans fats. If you find a product that reads differently, the most prudent action is to put it back on the shelf.
To name a few grocery store items that still contain this highly damaging type of fats:
- certain cookie brands (e.g., Little Debbie, TastyKake, etc)
- many cake and pie mixes and toppings
- most pizza brands
Unfortunately, fats of this type are used on a rather large scale in today’s restaurant industry, where they can be found in hydrogenated vegetable oils and shortening used for deep frying. This occurs most frequently in fast food chains (French fries lovers be warned!), but may also be encountered in better quality restaurants and eateries.
|Cow meat and cow milk contain trans fat in small amounts.|
A noteworthy fact is that such fats occur naturally in the milk and meat of
cows and sheep in small quantities (2-5% of total fat).
According to the nutritional guidelines of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), there is no safe level of trans fat consumption. The recommended daily allowance for
this type of fats is zero: They do not have any role in the human body, and are not
necessary for any of its functions.
It is unclear at this point in time whether the small amount of such fats naturally
occurring in cow and sheep products constitutes a health hazard comparable to that of
industrially hydrogenated oils and shortenings. It has been argued that the naturally
occurring fats are qualitatively different from the ones derived through industrial processing, and
therefore do not pose similar health risks. This issue is still being debated, and there
doesn’t seem to be a universally accepted answer. The comparison between the 2
categories of fats is confounded by the significantly lower fat amount present in the respective meat and milk products, which in itself could
account for a proportionally decreased health risk. The thing to remember is this: If
consuming meat products or whole milk from cows and sheep, it is prudent to do so in