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French fries, chips and chicken nuggets all have one thing in common – trans fats. Labelled as the ‘food villain’, they are the worst of all fats and should be eliminated from your diet or consumed less often. The World Health Organization has recently urged all countries to ban these toxic trans fats by 2023. (1)
Many countries like the US and Canada have already imposed a ban on these fats but several other countries are yet to make the move. However, these fats may still be lurking in your diet and may pose a health risk. So, here’s what you need to know about them.
WHAT ARE TRANS FATS?
Trans fatty acids found in foods are of two types: naturally-occurring and artificial. They occur naturally in animal-based foods like meat and dairy products in small amounts. According to studies published in The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, these natural fats are less harmful to health, when consumed in moderation. (2)
On the other hand, artificial trans fats mainly found in partially hydrogenated oils are unhealthy and not safe for consumption. These toxic fats are the byproduct of an industrial process where manufacturers add hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to solidify them. This technique known as ‘hydrogenation’ is easy and relatively inexpensive. Food manufacturers use partially hydrogenated oils in foods to increase their shelf life and enhance the flavour.
WHY ARE TRANS FATS BAD FOR YOU?
Trans fats can wreak havoc on your health. Research has time and again linked trans fats with an increased risk of a host of chronic diseases.
A diet high in trans fatty acids may put you at risk of developing heart disease. Numerous studies suggest that these toxic fats may elevate the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower the good cholesterol (HDL) levels. Another systemic review also shows that every 2% calorie you get from trans fats raises the risk of heart disease by 23%. (3)
Trans fatty acids may induce inflammation, a major risk factor contributing to various chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke.
Trans fat intake can cause weight gain and an increase in abdominal fat over the long run, as per research. Weight gain and increased abdominal fat cause insulin resistance which increases the risk of developing diabetes.
Trans fats may also have a negative effect on brain health. A recent study published in the journal ‘Neurology’ found an association between trans fats and Alzheimer’s disease. The study included 1628 Japanese men and women over the age of 60 who didn’t have dementia. After following them for 10 years, researchers found out that people who had higher levels of trans fats in the blood were 52% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. (4)
WHAT ARE THE MAIN DIETARY SOURCES OF TRANS FATS?
Margarine was considered to be a healthier alternative to butter but it was later discovered to be high in artificial trans fatty acids. This processed food is made from vegetable oils that are partially hydrogenated. Margarine is also loaded with artificial ingredients, colours and flavours.
Vegetable oils are another food marketed as a heart-healthy substitute to butter and coconut oil. But, did you know that all vegetable oils like canola, sunflower oil, safflower oil and many more are highly processed and contain trans fatty acids produced during the refining process.
Do you love adding coffee creamers to your morning cup of joe? Here’s why you shouldn’t. Non-dairy coffee creamers are full of trans fats, sugar and artificial flavours. Partially hydrogenated oils are used to make them creamier and increase their shelf life.
Vegetable shortening made using hydrogenated oil is a popular ingredient in baked goods. A tablespoon of vegetable shortening consists of 1.7 grams of trans fats which is nearly the recommended intake of trans fats by AHA. You can use grass-fed butter, ghee, coconut oil or olive oil in place of processed vegetable shortening.
Fried foods like french fries, fried chicken and doughnuts do taste delicious but they are high in calories and laden with trans fats and cholesterol. Restaurants and fast food joints use processed vegetable oils (which already contain trans fats) to fry them as they are cheaper and enhance the flavour of foods. But, heating the oil in high temperature can lead to an increase in the trans fat content. Consuming fried foods too often will take a toll on your health and shorten your lifespan. So, it’s best to strictly limit your consumption.
Packaged snacks like potato chips, crackers, biscuits, cookies and candy may be harbouring trans fats. So, don’t get tricked by the ‘no trans fat’ label mentioned on these packages. A study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined over 4000 packaged foods and found trans fats present in most of them. What’s even surprising is that 84% of these foods had labelled ‘0 grams of trans fat’ on the food labels. (5)
What’s a movie without popcorn, right? The all-time favourite popcorn is indeed a healthy snack but not all popcorn is created equal. Microwave popcorn, usually made by heating a bag of popcorn kernels in the microwave is loaded with trans fats. Stay away from the store-bought ones and opt for homemade popcorn.
Cake mixes do make your job easier but keep in mind that they have larger doses of artificial trans fats due to the use of partially hydrogenated oils. Instead, make your own cake batter at home to ensure that the cake is free from these fats.
HOW TO REDUCE TRANS FAT CONSUMPTION?
Can you eliminate trans fats from the diet completely? Well, it’s quite impossible but you can try to limit your trans fat consumption as much as possible. Here are a few tips.
CHECK FOOD LABELS
When it comes to healthy eating in general, checking food labels is very important. Read the ‘Nutrition Facts’ mentioned in the food package carefully. Look for the amount of trans fats present in the food. Sometimes, the product may have ‘0 grams of trans fats’ labelled on its package but they may still be present in it.
Make sure to read the ingredients listed in the package. If you find ingredients like partially hydrogenated oils and vegetable shortening in the food product, try to avoid them.
OPT FOR HEALTHY COOKING OILS
All vegetable oils undergo a harsh refining process leading to the formation of artificial trans fats. These so-called heart-healthy oils may do more harm than good to your overall health. Therefore, it’s wise to choose healthier cooking oils like olive oil or avocado oil to reduce the presence of these toxic fats in your diet.
RELATED: How To Choose The Right Cooking Oil?
LIMIT YOUR INTAKE OF PROCESSED FOODS AND PACKAGED FOODS
It’s a well-known fact that most of the processed and packaged foods are rich in trans fats and have no health benefits. Consume these foods less often or try to stay away from them completely.
Did you find this post helpful? Which of these foods are part of your daily diet? How are you going to reduce your trans-fat consumption? Let me know in the comments below. Do share it with your friends and family and don’t forget to LIKE!