The Disturbing Truth About Trans Fats

There are a number of controversial debates in the world of nutrition but one of the few subjects that are widely accepted across the board is the dangerous nature of trans fats. Fortunately, there is now large-scale awareness on reducing the consumption of trans fats across the globe, but a large number of people are still consuming way too much unhealthy products containing trans fats that can have a number of detrimental consequences on their health.

Trans fats or trans fatty acids is a kind of unsaturated fat that is believed to be responsible for a host of health issues. Containing a specific chemical structure, trans fats are unsaturated fats wherein hydrogen atoms are bonded on opposite sides of the double bond in the chemical structure.

In actuality, trans fats are available in its natural as well as in its artificial state. Natural trans fats assimilated by humans are due to the dietary habits of eating meat and dairy products from animals such as sheep, goats and cattle. These ruminant animals produce ruminant trans fats that are naturally formed when bacteria in the stomach of the animal digests grass. Trans fats found in dairy products typically make approximately 4% of the total composition, while trans fats found in red meat typically make up anywhere between 4 to 8%.

The Disturbing Truth About Trans Fats

A number of reviews and studies have revealed that a moderate intake of ruminant trans fats in its natural state is not harmful. One particular well-known trans-fat known as conjugated linoleic acid or CLA is considered to be a beneficial fatty acid, also found in the number of supplements. CLA is found in large quantities of dairy fat from grass fed cows and is associated with a reduced risk of heart disorders.

On the other hand artificial trans fats contain none of the goodness, on the contrary it is downright harmful in all respects to human life. Otherwise known as hydrogenated fats or industrial trans fats, artificial trans fats are created by adding molecules of hydrogen in vegetable oils.

The addition of hydrogen molecules alters the chemical structure of vegetable oil and converts it from a liquid stage into a solid state. The process of adding hydrogen molecules involves the addition of hydrogen gas, a metal catalyst, high pressure etc. amidst other unhealthy procedures to the process of hydrogenation that in itself could be viewed as unsuitable for human consumption. Hydrogenated vegetable oils have a lengthy shelf life and can stay solid at room temperature without going rancid, and with a consistency that is akin to saturated fats.

A number of clinical studies, trials and reviews have studied the effects of artificial trans fats on the human body. Participants who consumed hydrogenated vegetable oils instead of natural carbohydrates carried greater risk of heart disease and elevated cholesterol in their bodies. It was seen that replacing one percent of calories from carbohydrates with hydrogenated vegetable oils or artificial trans fats critically enhanced the level of bad cholesterol or LDL-cholesterol without altering the increase of HDL or good cholesterol. In addition a number of observational studies concluded the association of artificial trans fats to an enhanced risk of heart disease across all levels.

A recent study conducted over a large number of participants, approximately over 80,000 women, revealed that women who consumed the highest amount of hydrogenated flexible oils had over 45% risk of diabetes. Other controlled trials in humans have also observed the link between crucial diabetes risk factors such as elevated blood sugar levels, insulin resistance and other complications with artificial trans fats.

A leading driver of a number of chronic, lifestyle diseases is the excessive amount of inflammation in one’s body. Diseases such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, and various kinds of heart diseases are now being linked to excess inflammation in the body. Three important clinical trials analysing the association between inflammation and trans fats revealed that trans fats was responsible for increasing inflammation markers in the body such as IL-6 and TNF alpha.

Another disturbing connection to artificial trans fats was its relationship with cancer. Medical scientists have convincing evidence to show that trans fats damages the inner lining of the blood vessels also known as endothelium.

In a four-week study, when saturated fats were replaced with artificial trans fats, the ability of arteries to enlarge was damaged by over 25% while HDL-cholesterol went down by 20%. In addition, when artificial trans fats replaced natural carbohydrates and monounsaturated fats, the markers for endothelial dysfunction also elevated.

Currently there are very few studies looking at the correlation between artificial trans fats and cancer, but there is an increasing body of interest surrounding the subject and further studies are likely to take place. In one particular review known as the Nurses’ Health Study, the consumption of artificial trans fats before menopause was connected to an enhanced risk of breast cancer after menopause.

To ensure that you do not consume foods containing trans fats or hydrogen needed vegetable oils, it is important that you read the ingredient labels on the food items carefully. Refrain from eating any foods that have the words hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated on its ingredients list.

In modern diets today, artificial trans fats is found in abundance especially in all forms of processed foods. Given its long shelf life and its cheap availability, hydrogenated vegetable oils are commonly used by food companies. Fortunately, governments and health organisations across the globe are now waking up to the dangers of hydrogen dated vegetable oils and are cracking down on the usage of trans fats in processed foods.

In the latest development on the battle against hydrogenated vegetable oils, the Food and Drug Administration has taken a bold step towards eliminating trans fats from modern diets. The FDA has vigorously ordered food manufacturers across the nation to stop using trans fats in their food production within the next three years and completely eliminate it from processed foods altogether.


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