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The Fat Deal on Trans Fat

Posted on September 26, 2022 | No Comments on The Fat Deal on Trans Fat

Are you aware of the kind of fat you are eating? One of the leading causes of type 2 diabetes is excess body fat or obesity resulting from an imbalance between energy intake and physical activity. Fat is one of the three major nutrients in food that supply energy, the others are carbohydrate and protein. Fat is the main form in which the body stores energy. Fats and oils are made mostly of fatty acids. The chemical and physical properties of fat are determined by the relative amounts of fatty acids it contains. There are four major kinds of fats/fatty acids in the foods that we eat.

  • Saturated fatty acids are found in animal foods such as meat, chicken, butter, milk and dairy products. Foods high in saturated fatty acids are solid or hard at room temperature. When eaten, saturated fatty acids raise blood cholesterol, which increases the risk of an individual to coronary heart disease and stroke.
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil,avocado and nuts. Foods high in monounsaturated fatty acids are liquid at room temperature but solidify at refrigerated temperatures. For example, salad dressing containing olive oil is clear at room temperature but turns cloudy when refrigerated. Monounsaturated fatty acids can help lower LDL or the “bad” cholesterol.
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, soybean, sunflower and sesame, as well as in some nuts (walnuts), and seeds. Fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are polyunsaturated. Foods high in polyunsaturated fatty acids are liquid or soft at room temperature. Polyunsaturated fatty acids can help lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol when substituted for saturated fats in the diet.
  • Trans fatty acids (TFAs) also called trans fats are produced by a process called partial hydrogenation, that involves heating liquid “healthy” vegetable oils or polyunsaturated fats to make them solid or hard like margarine and shortening (fat coming from either animal or vegetable source). Partially hydrogenated fats are used in packaged or processed foods because they have a longer shelf life and flavor stability. Hydrogenated fats are more stable (can be re-used many times in deep-frying) and make piecrusts flakier and french fries crispier.

Trans fats in foods
Trans fatty acids naturally occur in small amounts in some foods such as beef, pork, chicken, lamb butter and full-fat milk. Trans fatty acids or trans fats are also found in processed foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated fats such as french fries, fried chicken, doughnuts, cookies, biscuits, pastries, crackers, cereal bars, and waffles among others. The following information was taken from a 1995 report of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Trans fats and diabetes
Today, there has been much concern about the effects of trans fatty acids on the body.Their effects on the body is similar to saturated fats in that they raise total LDL or “bad” cholesterol and lower the HDL or “good” cholesterol, thus increasing the risk of developing coronary heart diseases. Dietary fats probably also influence the onset of type 2 diabetes but the long term effects of specific types of dietary fatty acids on insulin resistance remain unclear.

However, recent scientific evidence suggests that trans fats significantly increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.A team of researchers from the Harvard School of Health examined the relationship between different types of dietary fat and the risk of type 2 diabetes. The study involved 84,000 women aged 34 to 59 years old. All were free of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer at the start 5 of the study. After 14 years, about 2,500 cases of type 2 diabetes were recorded. From a close examination at the detailed dietary information gathered periodically from the subjects, researchers conclude that trans fatty acids increased the risk of type 2 diabetes in women.

Limiting trans fats
It is noteworthy to share this information that the food industry has responded to the issue/concern about rising dietary fat intake in many ways. Non-fat food ingredients such as thickening agents (pectin, starch) and emulsifier (bile, lecithin) have been developed to replace fats in some processed foods; improved hydrogenation processes have reduced the production of trans fatty acids; nutrition labeling enables consumers to monitor their total and saturated fat consumption; and in some countries alternative lipids have been developed and marketed to reduce the levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood.

One tip to determine the amount of trans fat in food is to read the ingredients label and look for the shortening, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil. The higher up on the list these ingredients appear, the more trans fat. One can also add up the amount of fat in a food product (saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), provided the amounts are listed and compare the total with the total fat printed on the label. If they add up, the difference is likely trans fat, especially if partially hydrogenated oil is one of the first ingredients listed.

Look for trans fat listing just below saturated fat on the Nutrition Fact panel, already on some processed foods. Also, pay attention to how much of the food eaten contain hydrogenated oils. Even if a product contained negligible amount of trans fat, this will likely add up if one eats twice the recommended or usual serving size. Knowledge on how to identify trans fat on the food label gives information on how to make food choices that help reduce the risk of diabetes and other serious health problems.

To avoid or limit trans fatty acids in the diet, look for processed foods made with unhydrogenated oils rather than hydrogenated or saturated fats. The American Heart Association (AHA) advises the use of soft margarines (tub margarine) over the harder stick margarine and butter. Furthermore, buy margarine that contains no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon and with liquid vegetable oil listed as the first ingredient. Good quality margarines with high levels of polyunsaturated fats contain very low levels of trans fatty acids.

The bottom line is to keep total fat intake to low level (less than 30 percent of total calories per day). The less total fat you ingest, the less trans fats and saturated fats you’ll get. So now there’s no excuse for not watching the amount and type of fat you are eating!

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