Trans fats or trans-fatty acids are a form of unsaturated fat that appear both in a natural and artificial form. The natural form of these fats will usually appear in meat and dairy animals like cattle, sheep and goats where the bacteria will naturally form as they digest grass in their stomachs.
These fats will generally make up about 2-6% of dairy products and 3-9% in cuts of meat of beef and lamb, not enough to be concerned about if you have a balanced diet. The conjugated linoleum acid (CLA),are also present in milk, cheese and yoghurts. Preliminary research suggests that they may even be helpful in reducing certain types of cancer and heart disease.
The more concerning fat are known as industrial trans-fats or partially hydrogenated fats which are hazardous to your health. These fats occur when hydrogen is added to the liquid vegetable oils, altering their state, to remain solid during room temperature, providing them with a longer shelf life and the ability of stabilising the flavours in food.
Consuming the artificial trans-fats will seriously increase the risk of heart disease as well as increasing your “bad” cholesterol, while lowering your “good’ cholesterol.
Currently there are no known health benefits or safe levels of consumption.
How do trans-fats harm you:
Trans-fats over time will build up leaving fatty deposits within your arteries, over time, blocking the pathway to your heart causing a heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes , Alzheimers and liver dysfunctions. Trans-fats can also change the behaviour of the cholesterols within our body.
There are 2 types of cholesterol;
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad cholesterols, which build up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good" cholesterols that act as cleaners that pick up excess cholesterol and take it back to your liver.
The trans-fats act in a way that has an unhealthy effect on your cholesterol levels , increasing your LDL and decreasing your HDL.
Where do we find trans-fats?
Sadly and unsuspectingly, we consume the fats every day which often appear in the weekly family shop. You are most likely to find the fats in a variety of processed food products;
Baked Goods: bread, pies, cookies, cakes, biscuits, dough nuts,
Fried foods: french fries, fried chicken, fast food.
Refrigerated biscuits and rolls.
Ideally, eating freshly prepared food is the best way to avoid them, sadly, time doesn’t always allow for such pleasures and it will often be cheaper to feed a growing family with some processed food.
Reading the labels will give you an indication of what’s in your food. Depending on the country, 0 grams can still mean the food contains some trans-fats, likely to be around 0.5 grams.
Foods free from tans-fats, won’t necessarily be better. Some of the substitutes; coconut , palm oil (bad for the environment) contain a lot of saturated fats. These substitute fats will again raise your total cholesterol levels.
The ideal substitute would come in the form of nuts, fish and other foods containing unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. Then followed by the monounsaturated fats; olive, peanut and canola oil, which are the healthier option of saturated fats.
The UK adult population has seen an increase in those now overweight or obese. The numbers are scary with around 28% of adults are obese (BMI+30), followed by another 36.2% considered overweight (BMI 25-30). The availability of ready meals and foods containing more additives and trans-fats, this suggests that the problem will only get worse. The government has made strides on its “war against obesity”, but unfortunately these are small steps on a growing problem.
Reading about the foods that contain the trans-fats, it clear that they are hard to avoid. The only way to counter the intake is to try and stay fit and moderate the amount of processed foods I consume.
I have been checking the labels of food for a little while to see if they contain trans fats, especially some of my favourite treats. I must confess left to my own, my diet is fairly plain and enjoy fresh uncomplicated food without too much added sauces.