If you thought saturated fat was bad for your heart you may be surprised to know trans fat is worse – much worse. And what’s more you may be eating it every day.
You may think of heart disease as a man’s issue but more women than men die of heart disease in the US and the older you are the worse the statistics get.
As a woman once you reach 65 – you are more likely to die of coronary heart disease than anything else.
In terms of fat – we probably just about sorted out what was good and bad for us. We know monunsaturated and polyunsaturated are the “good” fats and we also know we need to keep our saturated fat as low as possible – especially as we get older.
But you may not be aware of trans fat and just how important it is for healthy aging to avoid it in your diet.
Trans fat is simply hydrogenated fat – a man made fat produced by treating vegetable oils under pressure to produce a solid fat.
The advantage of trans fat for the food manufacturer is that trans fat has a longer shelf life in baked products and longer use by dates for cooking oils. On top of that hydrogenated fats give foods like cookies and cakes an addictive kind of texture or “mouthfeel” – so we all eat more than we should.
Trans fats pose a higher risk of heart disease than saturated fats, which were once believed to be the worst kind of fats. While it is true that saturated fats — found in butter, cheese and beef, for example — raise total cholesterol levels, trans fats go a step further. Trans fats not only raise total cholesterol levels, they also deplete good cholesterol (HDL), which helps protect against heart disease.Mary Beth Sodus: Dietician University of Maryland Medical Center
The big problem is that the human body cannot digest trans fat in the same way that it deals with other fats from natural sources.
Trans fat is stiffer than natural fat and – over time – the build up of even tiny amounts of hydrogenated fat cloggs up your arteries putting you at much greater risk of heart disease or stroke. Think of what happens to your kitchen sink when fat from cooking solidifies and you get the picture!
Concern about trans fat was first raised in the UK as early as the 1970s. Further scientific research was done by the Harvard School of Public Health in the US who published a major study in 2007 showing that consumption of trans fats trebled the risk of coronary heart disease in women.
“from a nutritional standpoint, the consumption of trans fatty acids results in considerable potential harm but no apparent benefit”
New England Journal of Medecine Scientific Review 2006
Trans fat is used in many fast foods and processed foods. The list is almost endless and you really need to check labels but any of the following are likely suspects:
- french fries
- fried chicken
- donuts, muffins and pastries
- cakes, pies and cake icing
- microwave popped corn
- instant latte drinks
The good news – if you live in the States – is that food labelling laws mean you can usually identify which food contains trans fat and avoid it. Trans fats are listed under the fat category of the nutrition facts panel.
The use of trans fats in restaurants has been banned by NYC Public Health Department since 2006 and many cities, towns and states across the US are following their lead.
In the UK – supermarkets are starting to label trans fat in response to consumer anxiety and in some cases to eliminate trans fat from their product ranges completely.
The simplest advice – if you can’t find trans fat on the label but you see hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat listed then don’t buy the product. When cooking at home use only liquid oils for frying and margarines that are labelled trans fat free.
It is actually quite amazing that an artificially created substance like trans fat which is so harmful to the human body is allowed in food at all. Take action to protect yourself and your family and avoid trans fat wherever possible.
Chances are you’ll look younger, feel better and live longer for it.