Recently, the Food and Drug Administration took a stand for America’s heart health, requiring food manufacturers to remove artificial trans fats from processed food within three years. Now, the food industry is petitioning for certain exemptions to continue using trans fats in hundreds of food products.
So what exactly is trans fat? You’ve heard of it, seen it on the back of a food label, and have even eaten it. The majority of all processed foods in America contain them. Trans fat is industrially formed unsaturated fat that is created when hydrogen is added to the chemical composition of natural oils. This is known as hydrogenated oil.
Take butter for example. Many people were hesitant of eating such high concentrations of unsaturated fat, so the food industry turned the table around and created what we know as “margarine”- a light butter-like spread with less fat and lower cholesterol. What you don’t notice is the hydrogenated, man-made fat hidden inside.
The major source of trans fats are hydrogenated oils, which have been used for many decades in order to increase the shelf life of food. While there are some instances where preserving food is necessary, is it necessary to preserve food as long as we are able to? Currently, you can find a pre-packed food item with an expiration date until 2020: delicious. A study performed in 2006 reported at least 30,000, and as many as 100,000 cardiac diseases a year can be prevented with the removal of hydrogenated oils from peoples’ diet.
In a Harvard Study, researchers found a direct correlation between the intake of hydrogenated oils and heart attacks. They concluded that replacing just 2 percent of energy from trans-fat with some of the healthier fats would decrease the risk of coronary heart disease by one third. Further expanding on the research, the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine reported on increased levels of Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also known as “bad cholesterol”. This caused inflammation in the liver amongst many people, promoted obesity, and increased resistance to insulin, the precursor to diabetes. These adverse effects translate to heart disease, and in many cases, death.
Kristin Williams, a dietitian at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano, stresses the necessity of fat in our diets. “Thirty percent of our total intake of calories is fat, including saturated fat,” she said.
Maintaining healthy eating habits is crucial, and our body requires everything from protein to carbs to fat.
“We need these fats, but trans fat? Avoid it at all costs,” Williams said.
This blog post was contributed by Aakriti Gaur, an intern at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano.