Saturday, July 15, 2006

What Are Trans Fats and Are They Dangerous to Our Health?

Regulation Of Trans Fats

Should we regulate the amount of trans fats contained in thefood we eat? A Canadian government task force on trans fats isrecommending that all vegetable oils and spreadable margarineshave the trans fat content limited to 2% of the total fatcontent and all other foods be limited to a maximum of 5% oftotal fat content. These new regulations would decrease theaverage trans fat intake by at least 55%.

What are trans fats? Fatty acids in foods are made up ofpolyunsaturated (like safflower oil, sunflower oil and cornoil), monounsaturated (like olive oil, peanuts, and avocados),saturated (like coconut oil, palm oil, butter and cheese) andtrans fats (like margarine and shortening). Saturated and transfats are linked to coronary heart disease. The majority of transfats are produced by the food industry when it uses a processcalled hydrogenation to turn liquid vegetable oils intosemi-solid products. This process hardens and stabilizes theoils, enhances the flavor and extends the shelf life of foodproducts. These trans fats also break down less easily whichmakes them more suitable for frying. The majority of trans fatsare found in foods made with shortening, margarine orpartially-hydrogenated oils and in baked goods like crackers,cookies and donuts and in fried foods like french fries andfried chicken. The trans fat content of some of these foods canbe as high as 45% of the total fat in the food product. Transfats also occur naturally at fairly low levels inruminant-based foods like dairy products and beef and lamb.

Are trans fats worse than saturated fats? There is a lot ofevidence linking both trans fats and saturated fats to coronaryheart disease. Trans fats appear much more dangerous becausemetabolic studies have shown that they increase the bloodlevels of our bad cholesterol (LDL) and decrease the levels ofour good cholesterol (HDL). Saturated fats appear less damagingbecause they elevate the total cholesterol levels - both bad(LDL) and good (HDL). The Harvard School of Public Health foundthat removing trans fats from the industrial food supply couldprevent tens of thousands of heart attacks and cardiac deathseach year in the US. The findings are published in the April13, 2006 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.Government organizations around the world have started to actto resolve the problem. In 2002, the US National Academies ofScience recommended that trans fat consumption be kept as lowas possible. In 2003 the World Health Organization recommendedthat trans fat intake be limited to less than 1% of overallenergy intake. Also in 2003, Denmark set an upper limit onindustrially produced trans fats in foods, limiting them tojust 2% of the total fats in foods. They excluded meat anddairy products. In 2005 Canada required mandatory labeling oftrans fats in packaged foods. The US followed in 2006 with amandatory labeling for any foods containing 0.5 grams or moreof trans fats per serving.

Is mandatory labeling sufficient? Shouldn't we let informedconsumers self-regulate the amount of trans fats they consume?Once the consumer understands how harmful trans fats are andthat as little as 5 grams per day can lead to heart disease,then mandatory labeling will force the food industry to reducethe amounts contained in food products much faster than a bunchof government regulations, However what about restaurants andthe fast food industry? Here is where the Canadian governmenttask force recommendations are probably a good thing. Consumersdo not know how much trans fats there are in french fries, deepfried chicken and baked goods. Therefore we should adopt therecommendation from the June 27th, 2006 final report of theTrans Fat Task Force that states - “For all vegetable oils andsoft, spreadable (tub-type) margarines sold to consumers or foruse as an ingredient in the preparation of foods on site byretailers or food service establishments, the total trans fatcontent be limited by regulation to 2% of total fat content.”This will allow us to eat restaurant and fast food industryfoods with the knowledge that the trans fat content is limitedto 2% or less.

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About The Author: Mark Ransome is a contributing editor andwriter for the popular new website – Benefits of Antioxidants.Visitors to will haveaccess to a new free diet and weight loss program – ThePsychiatrist’s Weight Loss Program.
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