Monday, November 27, 2006

Trans Fats in Your Diet – How Much Should You Eat?

Trans fats…what are they and how are they harmful to health?

Trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to liquid oils in order to make them solid at room temperature. This process is also called hydrogenation and is used in many food products to increase their shelf life and to give them extra flavor and texture.

Trans fats are found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, cookies, crackers, donuts, other snack foods and foods that are made with or fried by oil that is partially hydrogenated.

Hydrogenation came about a couple of decades ago as an alternative to animal (saturated) fat (used in food processing) which was found to be harmful to health at that time.

Since then, however, trans fat was found to be just as harmful as saturated fat, if not more so. Among its associations to various health risks, fatty acids have been shown to increase bad cholesterol (LDL) and decrease good cholesterol (HDL) which increases the risk of developing heart disease.

As a result of the fact that many scientific studies (in the past and ongoing) have linked trans fat to serious health risks, trans fat has become the new “dirty word” in diet.

In fact, the Food guide pyramid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, now urges people to restrict the intake of trans fat. Furthermore, the American Heart Association recommends limiting the intake of trans fat to no more than 1% of total caloric intake.

So for a daily intake of 1500 calories, for example, trans fats should represent about 1.5 grams.

As a response to the recent negative news on trans fat, several companies in the food industry are rumored to be taking steps to reduce their use of trans fats in their products. Among the fast food giants, KFC was the first to report that it will be removing trans fat from its recipes altogether.

Keep in mind that limiting trans fats in itself, however, does not provide the solution for reducing health risks and body weight. It is only a small part of the bigger picture, which involves, reducing total daily calories and increasing daily energy expenditure by participating in regular physical activity.



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