by Kimberly Allen, RN
When Trans Fat first appeared about 100 years ago they appeared to be a great addition to the food industry. Not only did they improve the flavor and texture of foods they also prolonged the shelf life of numerous processed foods ranging from cookies and cakes to frozen pizzas. Unfortunately, later scientists discovered that Trans fats are also a health risk. You may enjoy the taste the Trans fats gives your food but after they’ve gone past your taste buds and have been digested the Trans fats travel to your arteries where they turn to thick sludge and clogs them up leading to numerous health problems. It was studies that were done in the early 1990’s that really put the spot light on the negative health effects of Trans fats. In fact in 1994 experts estimated that there were 20,000 deaths related to Trans fats every year in the US. By 2006 the annual death rate related to the consumption of Trans fats had reached approximately 10,000 every year in the US.
Trans fat is another name for unsaturated fat, they have also been referred to as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. They are not saturated fats. A Trans fat is one that has been made by adding hydrogen to the oil reducing the chances that it will spoil. Trans fats also occur naturally in certain foods like lamb, beef and “full-fat” dairy products, however in small amounts. Most Trans fats develop when liquid vegetable oil is processed into solid fat. Unlike saturated fats, Trans fats not only increase your “bad” cholesterol they also decrease your “good” cholesterol. Trans fats also tend to do more damage than saturated fats. That’s not saying that saturated fats are healthy. There have been some studies to determine if there is a difference between naturally occurring Trans fats and Trans fats derived from the hydrogenation process. At least 2 of the studies indicated that naturally occurring Trans fats may actually have a beneficial effect at lowering your “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels. However, as there is no significant evidence to that effect nutritionists continue to list all Trans fats as potential health hazards, both naturally occurring and those resulting from the hydrogenation process.
Consumption of Trans fats is the leading cause of atherosclerosis as well as other cardiac diseases. In addition the “sludge” that builds up in your arteries causing atherosclerosis can also break off in pieces that travel through your blood stream causing strokes and heart attacks. The best way to prevent these problems is to avoid consuming trans fats and the best way to do that is learn to read labels. All processed foods have areas labeled “nutrition facts” as well as a list of ingredients. In the nutrition section look for any fats listed there. Remember, saturated fats are unhealthy also. If the Trans fat is listed a 0g then you need to read the ingredients list for “partially hydrogenated”. All oils that are partially hydrogenated are Trans fats. The key to the 0g Trans fats on the label is that if the product has less than 0.5g Trans fat per serving they can put 0g Trans fat on their label. However, the problem is most people eat more that a single serving. So if you eat more servings you’re getting more Trans fat. As the American Heart Association has stated that for optimal health your daily total calorie intake should contain less than 1% Trans fat. It’s not going to take too many servings of “0g” Trans fat before you’ve reached your daily limit.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.