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The Truth and Consequences About Trans Fats
by Lucho Crisalle, RD

With all the hype right now surrounding trans fats and the FDA labeling requirements, we thought we would provide a little clarity to the confusion.

(Article continued below.)

What are Trans Fats?

First, let's provide an understanding of the different types of fat. Fats come in one of three types: unsaturated (most vegetable oils), polyunsaturated (soft margarines, essential fatty acids like omega 3 and omega 6 from fish and nuts), or fully saturated (coconut oil, hard margarines). The term "saturated" is the type of chemical bond (single or double) between the carbon and hydrogen atoms.

How are Trans Fats created?

Basically, trans fats are made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil — a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats. Most trans fat can be found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils. Unlike other fats, the majority of trans fat is formed when food manufacturers turn liquid oils into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine, although a small amount oftrans fat is found naturally, primarily in dairy products, some meat, and other animal-based foods.

What are the Consequences associated with Trans Fat intake?

Scientific evidence shows that consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, levels, which increases the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 12.5 million Americans have CHD, and more than 500,000 die each year from CHD or complications from CHD. That makes CHD one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

Although saturated fat is the main dietary culprit that raises LDL, trans fat and dietary cholesterol also contribute significantly when consumed in high concentrations.

As most people know, the Food and Drug Administration has required that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol be listed on food labels since 1993. However, starting Jan. 1, 2006, listing of trans fat is required as well. Now with trans fat added to the Nutrition Facts panel, you will know for the first time how much of all three — saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol — are in the foods you choose. Identifying saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol on the food label gives you information you need to make good food choices that help reduce the risk of CHD. This revised label will be of particular interest to people concerned about high blood cholesterol and heart disease.

If consumers follow recommendations like selecting lean meat, trimmed of all visible fat, choosing reduced- or low-fat dairy products, and limiting the intake of baked foods such cakes, pastries, pies, and biscuits, they will not only lower the amount of saturated fat but also the amount of trans fat they consume, not to mention the over all calories.

Let's cut the fat and get to the truth:

Unfortunately, consumer groups and the media have made a huge issue about trans fats when they really may not be as bad as we are told. Yes, you did just read that. You've read this far to get to the whole truth, so here is some information on trans fats so you may be better informed:

As mentioned above, when vegetable shortening and margarine have undergone a process called "hydrogenation," unsaturated oils are converted to a more solid form of fat. These fats are found in all kinds of processed foods and are presently listed on the label as "partially hydrogenated fats or oils" (until the new law is fully implemented and the actual grams of trans fats will need to be disclosed on the label). These transformed fats are called trans-fatty acids and are potentially more dangerous to our bodies than saturated fats.

Now here's the important part: Ingested in small quantities, our bodies will burn them off as energy and conserve the natural fatty acids for more important functions. However, if there is an over consumption of trans-fatty acids which exceeds our bodies capacity to break them down, disease begins to manifest because our body attempts to use altered molecules for vital structures and functions. It is highly recommended to limit consumption of this fatty acid. Margarine, which is loaded with trans-fatty acids, should be used sparingly even though it is "lower in saturated fats." Estimated average intake of trans-fatty acids is about 12 grams per day in the U.S., of which 95% comes from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil products. The rest are from animal products, mainly beef and butter. When using margarine, we recommend Brummel & Brown brand. This particular margarine is made with yogurt and soybean oil and does not contain trans-fatty acids. Any other margarine that states to be trans-free on the label is also an acceptable choice.

Although the process of hydrogenation leads to the formation trans fats, there are other processes such as fractionation that can yield a hydrogenated oil without the formation of a trans fat. Therefore, the old rule of thumb directing us to look for the word "hydrogenated" in a label to identify the presence of a trans fats, no longer stands. Luckily, new government regulation requiring manufacturers to list trans fats now in effect will do away with all the guess work although it will cause some confusion when uninformed consumers see hydrogenated oils as part of the ingredients and do not see trans fats listed in the Nutrition Facts label.

Aren't you glad you read this article and will be one of the few consumers knowing what to look for? Sounds like we just transformed your life now, didn't we?

© 2006 Lucho Crisalle, R.D., Exercise & Nutrition Works, Inc.

About The Author:
Lucho Crisalle, R.D., an expert in the field of nutrition and supplements, is the creator of the "What Works!" E-Zine. To learn more and to sign up for this monthly E-Zine about nutrition, health and lifestyle management, visit and look for the green box in the upper right corner.

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