Artificial Trans Fats in Processed Foods are Dangerous to Health

by Pankaj Kotak, M.Sc., N.D.


For the past few years, the word "Trans Fats" has become a controversial buzz word in the health care world. The controversy surrounding Trans Fat is due to the emerging scientific evidence regarding its effect in causing all kinds of chronic diseases.

So, what are Trans Fats? It is a type of artificial fat found in large amounts (up to 50 to 60%) in Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils and shortenings. Trans Fats also occur naturally, in small amounts (2% to 5%), in animal fats such as the butter. According to Mary G Enig, PhD, who has done extensive research on Trans Fats and lipids, the trans fats in butter differ considerably from those found in partially hydrogenated oils which are artificial in nature and found to be dangerous for human health.

Partially Hydrogenated oils are very stable, more solid at room temperature and have a high shelf life which prevents the food from spoiling. These oils are plastic like firm, hold the shape of food very well and have a high melting point. This makes them well suited in making packaged foods such as biscuits, bread, bakery items, chips, and fried foods. Margarine, a type of imitation butter, can also contain significant amounts of partially hydrogenated oil.

Partially hydrogenated oils are created by a refining and chemical process called partial hydrogenation which involved heating a vegetable oil such as soybean oil at very high temperatures in the presence of a catalyst, hydrogen and using pressure. You cannot create them at home simply by exposing a vegetable oil to intense heat.

Consumption of Artificial Trans Fats, found in partially hydrogenated oils, disrupts the normal functioning of cells in the human body. Regular and high consumption of these fats causes widespread damage to various organs and tissues.

Scientific studies, of the consumption of artificial trans fats and their adverse health effects, have found the following:

  • Trans fats do not have any known health benefits and increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease.
  • Trans fats cause increase in belly fat and weight gain.
  • Trans fats are carcinogenic and cause breast cancer in women.
  • Trans fats cause prostate cancer in men.
  • Trans fats increase LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease HDL (good) cholesterol.
  • Trans fats increase the risk of Type 2 Diabetes.

Considering the adverse health effects, the US state of New York has become the first state to ban the use of artificial trans fats in restaurants. New Jersey and California have followed with a similar ban.

While shopping, consumers should check the labels of food packages to see if they contain "Partially Hydrogenated Oil", "Shortening" or "Margarine" and avoid such foods.

References

  1. Nelson GJ. Dietary Fat, Trans Fatty Acids, and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease. Nutrition Reviews. Apr 2009;56(8):250-252.
  2. Kavanagh K., et al. Trans Fat Diet Induces Abdominal Obesity and Changes in Insulin Sensitivity in Monkeys. Obesity. 2007;15:1675–1684.
  3. Kohlmeier L., et al. Adipose tissue trans fatty acids and breast cancer in the European Community Multicenter Study on Antioxidants, Myocardial Infarction, and Breast Cancer. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. 1997;6(9):705-710.
  4. Chavarro JE., et al. A Prospective Study of Trans-Fatty Acid Levels in Blood and Risk of Prostate Cancer. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. January 2008.
  5. Mensink RPM., et al. Effect of dietary trans fatty acids on high-density and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in healthy subjects. New England Journal of Medicine 1990;323:439-45.
  6. Salmeron J., et al. Dietary fat intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2001;73(6):1019-26
  7. Enig MG. Know your fats: The complete primer for understanding the nutrition of fats, oils and cholesterol. Bethesda Press. 2000;38-39.

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