By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer
Fats form an important macro-nutrient in our diet producing bulk, taste, ease absorption of fat soluble vitamins, like A,D,E,K, provide energy as a backup when there is insufficient carbs, and for cushioning vital organs, among more things. In spite of such important functions, fats were demonised by the medical profession, and big cat drug manufacturers in US, all because Ansell Key an American scientist published a study about different countries that made it look that heart disease was associated with fat intake. Fat is used to build new cells and is critical for normal brain development and nerve function
We all know that too much saturated fat in our diet can result in high cholesterol levels in blood, cause inflammation, and participate in plaque pathogenesis, resulting in blockage of arteries.
The medical profession then acclaimed unsaturated fats, because they never clogged up arteries, being liquid at normal temperatures, and were heart friendly. Taking too much of fat, both saturated or unsaturated, caused problems in the body, including obesity. The unsaturated fats were classified as mono-unsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The food industries then manipulated the unsaturated fats to look like butter in consistency and spread, by running through many stages to thicken the oil by a process called hydrogenation (pumping hydrogen vapour into the fatty acids). This process resulted in mimicking saturated fats by changing its chemical structure Margarines are the best examples of popular trans fat foods people having been consuming for a long time.
Trans fat behaves like a saturated fat because of its chemical structure. With time it was clear that trans fats increased the risk of heart disease by raising bad cholesterol (LDL), while lowering the good cholesterol (HDL), in our blood.
Such hydrogenated fats are found in many of the foods as saturated fats and they include
(Naturally occurring trans fats are found in small amounts in dairy products, beef, veil, lamb and mutton)
The body cells cannot differentiate between natural saturated fats and the artificial trans-fat. Saturated fats including cholesterol form with some protein and carbohydrates part of the structure of every cell membrane. The fats found in the form of oil are continually renewed and replaced. Trans fats are absorbed in to your cell membrane where healthy essential fats should be integrated. The trans fats seem to irreversibly disrupt cell membrane function and communications with other cells and cause all the body havoc.
These transfat in food are listed as “shortening”, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils or hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Foods containing any of the above trans fats should be avoided. These hydrogenated fats are labelled as “cholesterol free” and that is how they advertise, and one should not get deceived.
One advantage in using trans fats is that the shelf life of the item could be prolonged and further give stability to the foods.
By looking at the label you could find out whether any form of trans fat is listed among the ingredients. According to FDA regulations if less than 0.5 grams of trans fat is added, when declared, shall be expressed as zero. Consuming such foods containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fat with about four servings, you have reached a fair limit, though the label says zero transfats per serving.
In Canada the definition is that the food contains less than 0.2 grams of transfat, the content may expressed as zero, a much heathier proposition.
Food makers are given 3 years to remove partially hydrogenated oils from products by an order given by the FDA.
Food makers have already found substitutes for these controversial fats and there is no need to add them in the future.
Experts can’t say there’s any safe level of trans fats to eat, "because we don't have the evidence," says Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, MPH, professor of epidemiology and NUTRITION at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Robert Collete, president of the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils, has agreed to do what they have done for the past 10 years and work with the food industry in formulating other alternatives.
If a label says “vegetable oil” it is likely to be made from canola. (ref: www.tfx.org.uk)
You make your own trans fat
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