Claims&Labels

Trans fat

Trans fat has become the new danger word. Most people have heard of trans fat and know that diets high in trans fats are associated with health problems.

Claims

  • Diets high in trans fats are not good for health
  • Eating foods labeled 0 trans fat or low in trans fat reduces the risk of trans fat
  • Only processed foods have trans fat

What is trans fat?

In scientific terms trans fat is the common name for unsaturated fat with trans-isomer fatty acid(s). Trans fats may be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated but never saturated.

Trans fats are chemically altered vegetable oils. They are produced artificially in a process called hydrogenation which turns liquid oil into solid fat. Trans fats can be found in cookies, crackers, icing, potato chips, margarine and microwave popcorn. Using trans fats in the manufacturing of foods helps foods stay fresh longer, have a longer shelf life, gives bulk to food items and gives a less greasy feel.

Is trans fat natural fat?

Trans fats can be natural or artificial. Small amounts of trans fat occur naturally in beef and dairy foods. Artificial trans fats are made when hydrogen gas reacts with oil at high temperatures. They can be found in processed foods. About 80% of trans fat in American’s diet comes from factory-produce partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

What are the dangers of trans fat?

Trans fat along with saturated fats is responsible for obesity. In addition, trans fat raises "bad" (LDL) cholesterol and lowers r "good" (HDL) cholesterol. A high LDL cholesterol level in combination with a low HDL cholesterol level significantly increases the risk of heart disease

Trans fats are actually toxic substances for our cell membranes. When our cells contain an overabundance of trans fats, the cells become leaky and distorted. This can promote vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

How do you know whether food contains trans fat?

While reading food labels look out for the words "partially hydrogenated" vegetable oil or shortening. Partially hydrogenated is another term for trans fat. Shortening contains some trans fat.

Food items labeled 0 trans fat are also not safe. The United States' labeling requirement states that trans fat that amounts to less than 0.5 grams per serving can be listed as 0 grams trans fat on the food label. Though this is a small amount of trans fat, one can exceed the recommended limits if one eats multiple servings of foods.

For example, if someone happened to eat 2 servings of a food that contained 0.49 grams of trans fat per serving, they would actually be eating just under 1 full gram of trans fat all while thinking they ate "0 grams." Manufacturers also adjust their serving size until they get it to a point where they reach the 0.49 grams of trans fat (or lower) level. This allows them to put "0 grams" on their label

A food item has no trans fat only when the food label states "no trans fats"

Is fully hydrogenated oil worse than partially hydrogenated oil?

No. In fact just the opposite is true. Fully hydrogenated oil does not contain trans fat! Partial hydrogenation is a process that rids an oil of its highly unsaturated fatty acid content and changes anywhere from 5-10 percent to 55 percent or more of the original fatty acids to trans fatty acids and a number of other unnatural fatty acids. Hydrogenation, when carried out in its totality, produces only saturated fatty acids; and a totally saturated oil has the consistency of a wax and is not appropriate for use in food except in very small amounts added with emulsifiers to food products such as peanut butter.

If a product label says that it contains "hydrogenated" oil without the word "partially" before it, does that mean it's OK?

The terms hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated are used interchangeably by some companies and by parts of the government writings, so be careful. We have found that many products labels that say "hydrogenated" without the word "partially before it really mean "partially hydrogenated."

If a product is "cholesterol free," does that mean it will not raise my bad cholesterol?

No. Cholesterol that affects our arteries comes from two sources: (i) animal products and (ii) bad fats. If the product itself contains no cholesterol but it does contain trans fat or saturated fat, it will raise bad cholesterol.

Does "hydrolised" mean hydrogenated?

No. Hydrolised refers to the hydrolysis of protein into peptides and some free amino acids.

Does restaurant food have trans fat?

Menus which state that food items are "cooked in vegetable oil," might contain some partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Partially hydrogenated oil is economical. These stay stable for long periods, so the same oil can be used for longer periods of time. Regular oil goes rancid fairly quickly, and many restaurants would need to buy more oil for the same usage. In fact, trans fats is not just restricted to restaurant foods.

Is food prepared in the kitchen free of trans fats?

This depends on the oil used for cooking and the label on the oil can. If “partially hydrogenated” is listed, switch to a non-hydrogenated oil instead. If there is no ingredients list, ask the supplier or the manufacturer. For baking, use non-hydrogenated oils or shortenings with low or no trans fat on the label.

How much trans fat can I consume?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, adult on average consume about 5.8 grams of trans fats or 2.6% of calories, per day. Medical research shows that the daily intake of about 5 grams of trans fat is associated with a 25% increase in the risk of heart disease.

What are the alternatives to hydrogenated oils/ or oils containing trans fats?

Some suggest using small amounts of butter or animal fats. But these have saturated fats which are not good for health. Some fast food companies started using a blend of non-hydrogenated corn oil and soy oil, which removed trans fats without increasing saturated fats. Similarly some started using blend of canola and soybean oil.

Do only processed foods have transfats?