> Trans fats - why they are bad for you and the environment

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Trans fats - why they are bad for you and the environment
Last updated 12:24 pm, Monday 23rd November 2009

Trans Fats - what are they?

Trans Fat is the common name for unsaturated fat with trans-isomer fatty acid(s) created mostly from partially hydrogenating unsaturated plant fats (generally vegetable oils). Basically they are created through an extended process of heating from unsaturated plant fats and are totally unnatural.These partially hydrogenated fats have displaced natural solid fats and liquid oils in many areas, notably in the fast food, snack food, fried food and baked good industries.

Why are Trans Fats bad for you?

Simply put, our body does not deal at all well in processing these fats. Not only do they tend to accumulate in the body over time, leading to an accumulation of fatty deposits in arteries through raising the level of bad cholesterol in your system. In fact they also seem to have an effect on reducing the good cholesterol in your system at the same time, so really mucking things up. These deposits most often lead to causing coronary heart disease.

It also appears that Trans Fats has a roll in or contributes to:
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Liver Dysfunction
  • Infertility

Also it appears that Trans Fats also blocks fats and oils like Fish Oil Omega 3 from being taken up in the brain - hence Trans Fats are also known as the 'stupid fat'.

If Trans Fats are so bad for you then why are they in the food?

Like most things, it simply comes down to cost.  The two main drivers for putting these Trans Fats in food are as follows:
  • Trans Fats are often cheaper than their non Trans Fat equivalents. Partially hydrogenated oils can replace the animal fats traditionally used by bakers (such as butter and lard).
  • Trans Fats are great at increasing product shelf life and decreases refrigeration requirements. Basically the food containing Trans Fats does not break down so readily at room temperature so you can ship or store it longer.
Also using Trans Fats means such treated food can be eaten by vegetarians (and who said being vege was all good for you?). Also Trans fats are also found in shortenings commonly used for deep frying in restaurants, the decreased rancidity of partially hydrogenated oils meant that they could be reused for a longer time than conventional oils..

Okay, Trans Fats are bad for me, then why are they bad for the environment?

Think about it, Trans Fats are a totally artificial form of fat, our bodies and those of the animals in our environment are simply not equipped to safely process these fats. Regularly we 'dump' foods and oils with Trans Fats in them into our environment - be it via the drains or the dustbin. Given their relative long life compared to regular fats these Trans Fats are very likely to be making into the environment at large. Although strangely enough we cannot find any research into this as of yet..

Also, in a way, the economic effect of Trans Fats on fast food cost is causing us to choose fast foods over more environmentally friendly alternatives (such as locally grown or organic produce) - in effect it has 'distorted' the market against better foods as in order to be making money at the cheaper end of the market you almost have to be using Trans Fats.

What can I do?

So what can you do to reduce your exposure to Trans Fats?
  1. Read the labels. In most countries now food manufacturers are required to state the amount of Trans Fats in the food they produce. Although do be very careful of foods without such labeling on them, anything obviously fried or baked is likely to contain Trans Fats.
  2. Keep it fresh. Basically the simpler the food and the fresher the food the less likely it is to contain Trans Fats.
  3. Avoid Fast foods. Most fast foods are often fried, so highly likely to contain Trans Fats and other nasties, so avoid them.

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Related Tags: trans fats, cancer

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