Thursday, April 2, 2009

Trans Fats: Top 5 Foods To Avoid

I hear it all the time.  “Nutrition and Food is such a young science.”  I couldn’t disagree more.  Eating food should not be scientific at all; in fact people don’t need scientists to tell them that a brand new study came out claiming eating more vegetables is linked with lower cancer rates.  We know in our hearts (and our DNA) which foods are healthy and which aren’t.  Our earliest ancestors were food scientists.  They experimented with the plant growth around them and through trial and error found choices that made them stronger and healthy.  They even found medicinal plants that could heal. 

I bring up science only because the next additive I am going to talk about is a product of food scientist’s altering nature and “improving” food products.  Food processing is the ultimate manifestation of food science and has caused countless more problems that it set out to alleviate.   My question is what is wrong with the food God gave us and our ancestors to eat, and why is it so imperative that we alter these foods? 

Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHO’s) aka Trans Fats is one of the food industry’s greatest Frankenstein creations to date.  By infusing hydrogen in large oil vats, scientists found a way to turn a liquid into a solid.  They are dubbed “trans fats” because they aren’t quite a true liquid or a true solid.  Sounds a little strange right?  Our bodies definitely agree, because these man-made fats are causing all kinds of problems within us. 

The main reason these fats were created was to extend the shelf life on perishable products.  Another factor was the research about saturated fats increasing cholesterol, so the food industry thought they could make a better fat in a lab that would replace those “dangerous” saturated fats.   What they did instead was create an even more dangerous fat.  Even the FDA recognizes this.  In 2004 they released a statement saying trans fats are more likely to cause heart disease than saturated fats.  Yet, these fats remain on the market.

Cholesterol is a major predictor of heart disease.  LDL is considered to be the “bad” cholesterol and HDL the “good”.  Trans fats increase LDL numbers by 14% and decrease HDL by 12% (1).  This ratio of LDL to HDL is something doctors monitor very closely in those at risk for a heart attack.  Trans fats widen this gap, essentially knocking out the good and increasing the bad, a double whammy for your health.  It is no wonder why cholesterol levels are higher than ever in this country. 

A Harvard study from their Public Health Department revealed that if trans fats were eliminated from the U.S. food supply 1 in 5 heart attacks would be prevented.  This translates into 250,000 less heart attacks a year simply by eliminating PHO’s (2).  In another Harvard study with women, those with the highest blood levels of trans fats had the most heart attacks and those with the lowest were at the lowest risk.  Study after study confirms that consuming trans fats damages our coronary arteries (which feed our hearts blood) and puts us at greater risk for heart problems. 

Heart disease and trans fats have the strongest link in research, but cancer is also implicated in trans fat consumption.  Trans fats have been shown to adversely effect enzymes that neutralize carcinogens (3).  These fats have also been shown to block the uptake of insulin, which can cause complications in diabetics.  Finally, trans fats compromise the immune system by disrupting the balance of immunity cells.  These man-made fats are something our bodies have never seen before, so an immune response is initiated when these fats are ingested.  An overactive immune system can lead to a decreased immune response when a real invader enters the body.

Trans fats are still very widespread throughout our food supply, but people are starting to become educated on this subject.  New York City recently banned trans fat from all restaurants.  Philadelphia and Chicago followed suit, and other big cities are getting in the mix.  Nestle and Frito Lay are taking the steps to remove trans fats from their products.  In 2006, trans fats were required to be put on food labels by the FDA (4).  However, trans fat hide under the names shortening and partially hydrogenated vegetable, soybean and cottonseed oil. 

Here lies the problem with science entering our food preparation.  The food industry finds a way to extend shelf life and make a tastier product, yet 20 years down the road researchers find these “advancements” are slowly and prematurely killing us.  This is why I believe food should be eaten in its truest form, untainted by industry and enjoyed the way in which it has been for thousands of years.


 1.    Mensink, RP and Katan, MB.. Effect of dietary trans fatty acids on high-density and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in healthy subjects.  The New England Journal of Medicine.  Volume 323:439-445.  August 1990.

2.   Mozaffarian D, Katan MB, Ascherio A, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. 2006 Apr 13;354(15):1601-13.

3.     Enig, Mary interviewed by Richard A. Passwater.  “Dangers of Trans Fats.” 

4.     Mercola, Joseph and Droege, Rachel. “Trans-Fat: What Exactly is it, and Why is it so Dangerous.”