What’s All the Fuss About Trans Fats?
Fat is a major source of energy for the body and aids in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K and carotenoids. Both animal and plant-derived food products contain fat, and when eaten in moderation, fat is important for proper growth, development, and maintenance of good health. As a food ingredient, fat provides taste, consistency, and stability and helps us feel full. In addition, parents should be aware that fats are especially important source of calories and nutrients for infants and toddlers, who have the highest energy needs per unit of body weight of any age group.
Trans fat (also known as Trans Fatty Acids) forms when liquid oil is changed into a solid fat, for example when a vegetable oil is made into margarine or shortening. The process is called hydrogenation. Manufacturers prefer to use hydrogenated fats instead of liquid oils because of the following reasons:
- They are more solid, which is important to the moisture and texture of baked goods.
- They have a higher melting point, which allows them to be used at high temperatures for frying (improves browning and crispness of fried foods).
- They have a longer shelf life, which helps stabilize flavors.
Trans fat can be found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods (such as potato and corn chips), fried foods, baked goods (such as donuts and cakes), and other processed food made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Small amounts of naturally occurring trans fat can be found in some animal proteins, such as butter, milk products, cheese, beef, and lamb.
Not all fats are the same for example, while unsaturated fats (monosaturated and polysaturated from plant and seafood sources) are beneficial when consumed in moderation, saturated fat and trans fat are not. Saturated fat and trans fat raise “bad” LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Researchers also think that trans fat may have a negative effect on our immune function, reproduction and lactation. There is also a concern that the current dietary level of trans fat in our diet is partly associated with the following chronic diseases: heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity.
Saturated and trans fat affects the blood cholesterol in different ways. Like saturated fats, trans fat also raises the bad “LDL” cholesterol in the blood. But unlike saturated fat, trans fat lowers the “good” HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol in the blood. Elevated LDL cholesterol increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease.
How can you lower the intake of trans fat in your diet?
- Read the nutrition label. Check the Nutrition Facts panel to compare foods and choose foods lower in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
- Limit the amount of processed food you eat because they are a major source of hidden trans fat.
- Choose alternative fats such as olive, canola, soybean, sunflower and corn oils, nuts, and fish containing omega-3 fatty acids like wild salmon, mackerel and sardines.
- If you use margarine, choose a soft tub or spray margarine.
- Limit foods high in cholesterol such as liver and other organ meats and full-fat dairy products, like whole milk.
- Choose foods low in saturated fat such as fat free or 1% dairy products, lean meats, fish, skinless poultry, whole grains foods, and fruit and vegetables.