Eating Your Daily Junk: A Primer on Trans Fats
We hear the word “fat”, and an avalanche of negative images flow to mind, such as jumbo triple-decker burgers, black forest chocolate cakes, rainbow-colored donuts, or images of fat cells making their homes in our midsections (heck, you’re looking at yours right now).
Okay, so the first three items may not be so negative from a culinary point of view. Still, from a health and wellness sense, they are the prototypical stuff of our lifestyles that we know contribute fat to our diets. And a lot of unhealthy ones at that.
A partially-hydrogenated trans fatty acid molecule showingcarbon bonds and melded hydrogen atoms.
Most of these are processed foods which are made to last longer by infusing them with “trans fats”. Trans fats come from the fat family which we consume everyday. Other members of this family include:
Monounsaturated fats – at room temperature, these fats are liquid but get hard when cooled down to lower temperatures. When absorbed by the body, monounsaturated fats decrease low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is bad for our body and healthy lifestyles. They also help maintain healthy levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which helps unclog our arteries. Avocados, canola oil, and most kinds of nuts offer monounsaturated fats for our bodies.
Polyunsaturated fats – like its monounsaturated cousin, polyunsaturated fats remain liquid at room temperature. It also has the same effects, although too much of these fats will also lower good cholesterol in the body. Soybean oils, sesame, corn and safflower oils are full of these fats.
Omega-3 fatty acids – these fats help in preventing various heart diseases and bolster our immune systems. Our bodies do not produce omega-3 fats, so we have to get these from other food sources, such as salmon and other deep-water fish, walnuts, and soy beans.
Saturated Fats – they are natural fats found in animal products like dairy products and meat. Coconuts and palm oil also have them. Unlike its unsaturated counterparts, these fats have a high melting point and are solid at room temperature. Saturated fats raise bad cholesterol levels, leading to clogging of the arteries.
In contrast to the aforementioned fats, trans fats, or trans fatty acids, are not by any means “natural”. They are made when regular soluble fats (most often in liquid form) are deep-packed with hydrogen atoms. Trans fatty acids have great commercial benefits: they increase the shelf life of food products; they strengthen and solidify food, making them easy to handle; and trans fats increase the texture quality of food, making them palatable and more delicious.
That is why French fries taste so good, cake frosting melts lusciously in our mouths, and pastries make us come back for more. We owe our great culinary experiences to trans fats.
Sources of trans fatty acids for Americans.
What’s so harmful about transfats to a healthy lifestyle?
In the past, trans fats was a miracle substance for food manufacturers and distribution outfits, because of the benefits it gives in food preservation. They were even thought to be healthier than saturated fats.
Nowadays, research has proven that trans fats are even more harmful than saturated fats. While the saturated ones decrease bad cholesterol only, hydrogenated oils lower both bad AND good cholesterol levels in your body. Basically, the more solid the oils, the greater the chances of clogging your arteries.
Additionally, hydrogenated fats raise the triglyceride levels in the blood, which contributes to more chances of heart disease.
When shopping for food items, it would be best to check the nutritional information at the back of products and look for label that says “non-hydrogenated” or “trans fat-free”. More and more companies (especially fast food establishments), are switching to alternatives to hydrogenated oil. Include in your health diets those trans fat free products. Or, to make it less confusing on your health diets program, switch to organic produce to cook your food.