The truth about trans fats |26 May 2023
Just when you thought you had it all figured out, more health warnings about our food keeps popping up. It’s worrying how much we have made food become so complicated.
The simple act of eating for nourishment and to keep us alive is now influenced by so many other factors such as our mental health in particular our mood, our social setting, that is whether we are at home or out with friends, the amount of time we have on our hands and of course the amount of money we have to buy the food we eat.
The most complex of all however is the food choices we have to make on a daily basis while standing in a shopping aisle. The amount of pre-packaged foods surpasses fresh and natural products and are at times overwhelming.
To make matters worse, most of these pre-packaged foods are ultra-processed or simply put highly processed and full of harmful ingredients. We have talked a lot about these products in particular about the additives, salt, sugar and saturated fats that they contain.
However, we want to focus on one particular type of fat which manufacturers sneakily add to many products without our knowledge most times and that is ‘trans fat’.
What are trans fats?
Trans fat is a type of fat that may be produced naturally from the gut of ruminant animals like cows and pigs and products made from these animals such as meat and milk products may contain small quantities of these types of fat.
Artificial trans fats are created by food manufacturers in a process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them solid at room temperature.
The resultant partially hydrogenated oil (PHO) is inexpensive and less likely to spoil, so foods made with it have a longer shelf life. Moreover, it helps improve the taste and texture of the food to which it is added. Trans fats is therefore added to many pre-packaged foods by food manufacturers for these reasons.
Many fast food outlets and restaurants use partially hydrogenated vegetable oil for deep frying because it can be used several times without having to be changed as compared to other oils and also because it is cheap.
Health effects of trans fats
Natural trans fats from animal products are safe in moderation as long as they are not consumed excessively. The trans fats from industrial processes however appear to have a more detrimental effect on our health.
Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Eating trans fats therefore increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s been associated with a higher risk of certain forms of cancer such as colon cancer. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Foods containing trans fats
The artificially formed trans fats can be found in various food products in varying amounts. This includes for instance deep-fried foods like doughnuts, french fries, fried chicken, samosa, spring rolls and banana fritters, baked goods including cakes, cookies, pies, biscuits, frozen pizza and crackers, microwave popcorn, stick margarine and other spreads.
Smaller amounts of trans fats are also naturally present in certain products like beef, pork, bacon, butter and cream. In order to determine the amount of trans fats in a particular packaged food it is important to check the Nutrition information table.
The best way to compare products is by looking at the amount per 100 grams instead of per serving size as that is determined by the food manufacturer and will therefore differ from one product to another.
Nevertheless, it is worth bearing in mind that depending on the importing country where the food product is coming from, certain products can be listed as “0 grams of trans fats” if they contain from 0 grams to less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
The simplest and easiest way to identify trans fat in a product is by looking at the ingredient list. The main source of trans fat in highly processed food is “partially hydrogenated oils”. If this is listed among the first few ingredients, then it is a good way to know that the product is high in trans fats.
Reducing your intake of trans fat
While it is not easy for you to know the exact amount of trans fat you are eating right now, if you find yourself eating a lot of the food products listed above as food sources of trans fat then you are most likely having too much of it.
A good place to start therefore in reducing trans fat intake is by reducing your intake of these foods. Therefore, start eating less deep-fried foods, cakes, pastries, biscuits, processed meats and margarine.
It is important to realise that trans fat does not exist in isolation in a food and that there are other compounds that we should also be worried about such as the total amount of sugar, salt and saturated fats also present in the food. Hence most times by reducing your intake of foods high in trans fat you are lowering your intake of these other compounds as well.
Choose food products that contain essential nutrients including healthier fats such as nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, fish, poultry, milk products and eggs. In addition, also include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other local starches like breadfruit and plantains.
Even if natural sources of trans fats are okay to consume always be mindful that these should be in moderation such as lean red meat.
When cooking and preparing your meals choose healthier oils like olive oil. Although many of our local Creole dishes involve deep-frying try to opt for healthier cooking methods as often as possible to avoid the formation of trans fats in your food. It is preferable for you to bake, roast, poach or steam as often as possible.
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Please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how you’re doing with these ideas, or better still, let us know how we can help you.
Yours in health
The E4OH team