In November 2013, news that the FDA (finally) had made a tentative determination that partially hydrogenated vegetable oils were no longer GRAS or “generally recognized as safe”, hit the wires. With that, these food ingredients that have already received a well-deserved bad rap, are expected to get downgraded to the status of food additives which are subject to marketing approval.
Purpose in foods: So why were these harmful ingredients put in our products in the first place? The double bonds in all fats, particularly poly unsaturated fats, breakdown with exposure to oxygen creating a rancid product with decreased shelf stability. Manufacturers can get around this by partially hydrogenating vegetable oils to reduce these unstable double bonds and create a more shelf stable product. In the wake of this, trans fats were born.
- History of trans fats: In the 1960s, there were actually those who were touting partially hydrogenated fats as “healthier” compared to their “evil” cousin, saturated fat. The Nurse’s health study in the 1970s, exposed the link between trans fats and heart disease. Like saturated fats, trans fats raise LDL but unlike saturated fats, they also reduce HDL (healthy cholesterol) and have been associated with inflammation and increased insulin resistance (body’s inability to use available insulin)
- What’s in a label? Since 2006, food manufacturers have been required to disclose the amount of trans fats in grams on food labels. So what’s the catch? The manufacturer is allowed to round the trans fat content to zero if it is less than 0.5 grams. So unsuspecting consumers could overload on trans-fats if they had several servings of foods with say, 0.4 grams of trans fats per servings.
- Trans fat clues: Look out for “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils ” on ingredient lists as that may be your clue that there is some trans-fat lurking in there. The most common sources are commercial baked goods such as i.e. crusts, cakes, cookies, shortening, microwave popcorn, potato chips etc.
- Going, going, gone?: It took almost a full century from the time trans fats invaded the food supply, before the FDA came cracking down. Although this might be the beginning of the end for man- made trans fats, it may still be a few years before we can close the chapter on this lethal ingredient for good.
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For more on trans fats and fat busting myths please listen to my vodcast by clicking on the link below or read the script. Enjoy!
Hello friends and my blog readers,
Welcome to my vodcast on dietary fats. Are you baffled by the controversy and confusion surrounding the topic of fats today? In the next five minutes I am going to cut through some of the clutter and bust 4 common myths associated with fats, so let’s get started shall we?
- First off, we need all 3 nutrients carbohydrates, proteins and fats in our diets as they all serve important functions in the body. Think of these as your anchoring nutrients. Or the legs of a three-legged stool. What happens when you pull a leg away? The stool collapses. So also will your meal plan if you indiscriminately cut out any one nutrient, and yes, that includes fats. So beware of fad diets that eliminate or dramatically reduce the proportions of major food groups in particular fats or carbs in a mistaken attempt to induce weight loss.
- Secondly, it may come as a surprise to some of you that dietary cholesterol itself has a relatively smaller effect on blood cholesterol levels compared to saturated and trans fats. A 1999 study published in JAMA showed that the consumption of up to 1 egg per day did not significantly impact the risk of heart disease in healthy men and women. However, two landmark studies, the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, demonstrated that heart disease risk did increase among men and women with diabetes who ate one or more eggs a day. Hence if you have diabetes or heart disease, experts advise that your restrict your intake of egg yolks to 3 per week
- The 3rd startling fact that I would like to share here is that cholesterol only comes from animal foods, and not from plant based sources. However, this does not stop food manufacturers, anxious to boost their bottom line, from putting a claim such as “cholesterol free “ or 0 grams of cholesterol on the food label. I recently observed this on a bottle of Canola oil. Bear in the mind that as canola oil comes from rape seed, a plant-based product, it never had cholesterol in the first place! However, you can see how misleading this might be for food manufacturers.
- Revelation no 4: You have just been told by your Physician that your cholesterol is high and to start modifying your diet. Noting that saturated and trans fats are the biggest drivers of cholesterol in the body, you start cutting out ice-cream, red meat and snack foods such as pastries from your diet. This is great, but you decide to replace those cookies laden with saturated fats with animal crackers as the label on the animal crackers claims they are virtually fat-free. What’s the catch? The replacement of sat fats with refined carbs can actually raise triglycerides and possibly lower your healthy cholesterol or HDL. The consumption of rapidly metabolized carbs can cause blood sugar spikes releasing, large amounts of insulin from the pancreas. This causes a drop in blood sugar, hunger pangs, subsequent over eating and weight gain. Eventually, this can increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes. In addition, many folks end up replacing healthful unsaturated cooking oils with a fat-free spray, thus essentially throwing out the good fats along with the bad. Or you could say, you have virtually thrown out the baby with the bath water. The moral behind this story: substitute saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats such as mono and polyunsaturated fats such as nut, olive oil and flaxseed, not refined carbohydrates.
- This concludes the current segment on some of the myths surrounding fats. Please stay tuned for more posts and vodcasts on this very important, but highly misunderstood topic.
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Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE