Trans-fats are perhaps the most misunderstood nutritional component today. While an array of harmful health effects have been linked to them, few people seem to understand what exactly trans fats are.
Even more confusing is that it has been discovered that natural trans fats can occur in meat products and that these may actually have the opposite effects of their artificial cousins. As recently as a few months ago, manufacturers did not have to divulge how much of their products’ fat content was due to trans fats, and common snack foods such as Oreos had an astounding amount per serving.
Today however, thanks to strict packaging laws, all products must clearly label their trans fat content. This amount, however, is often misleading. As long as a product contains less than half a gram of trans fat per serving, it can purport 0g. This becomes problematic when, as many Americans are apt to do, people consume multiple servings of a product.
What Are Trans Fats and Where are They?
Trans fats are generally oils that have been partially hydrogenated (adding hydrogen atoms to already existing fats). When this process occurs artificially, it results in a fatty compound that the body has trouble processing.
These artificial trans fats must be produced in an environment that requires temperatures far beyond those possible in a normal kitchen. The fats that this process produces, however, do have a number of industrial uses (hence their popularity with manufacturers).
They increase product shelf life, are cheaper alternatives to butter and lard, and can stay solid at room temperature.
These partially hydrogenated trans fats are also a simple way of replacing animal fats in foods without violating the laws of Kashrut, Halal, or vegetarian and vegan principles.
Trans fats are most commonly found in shortenings, fast foods, snack foods, and fried foods. Anything from the premade pasta dish you bought to the Twinkie you ate can all have trans-fats in them.
They are especially prevalent in fast food restaurants because they can be used far longer than conventional oils before they begin to turn rancid.
Finally, it has been found that trans fats can occur naturally in the meat of animals such as cattle and sheep, but these fats have a different chemical structure and effect.
Trans Fats Effects
Trans-fats have been linked to a significant rise in the risk for coronary heart disease.
Additionally, these fats have been shown to contribute to the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease, Cancer, Diabetes, Obesity, Liver Dysfunction, Depression and even Infertility in Women.
Because of these overwhelming findings, there has been a strong movement to ban the use of trans-fats altogether. Food manufacturers, however, have mounted an extensive campaign in retaliation, citing them as a cheap and safe ingredient in a variety of products.
It should be noted that because of the new manufacturing guidelines, you may see trans fats labeled in some products that have no ingredients other than meat. Chances are that these are the naturally occurring type, and they have been linked to a reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease and even shown to lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.