One of the main trans fat facts is that its presence in processed foods is artificial, and hence unhealthy. This article will give you some harsh facts about this fat.
Back in the time of the 1800s, in Europe, the working class wasn’t able to afford animal products like meat and butter. And, since it was impossible to cook without butter, Napoleon III offered a prize to any scientist who would come up with its replacement for the navy and working class. A French chemist, Hippolyte Mège-Mourièsm, came up with a substance called oleomargarine made out of animal fat, which later came to be called by the name as we all know it – margarine. In the U.S., however, it was not quite accepted back then.
The French chemist, Paul Sabatier, in the late 1890s, developed the chemistry of hydrogenation of vapors for industries that would eventuate to the food industries, using it for making trans fat. It happened in 1901, after German chemist Wilhelm Normann heard of Sabatier’s article on the possibility with vapourizable organic compounds to bind catalytic hydrogen, to fluid tar oils. He converted oleic acid (found in abundance in animal fat) into stearic acid by using catalytic hydrogen with dispersed nickel. In this way, saturated fat was capable of being hardened.
In 1900s, the U.S. had a lot of soybeans imported for their protein. What to do with the by-product, i.e., soybean oil, was an issue that was solved by beginning to hydrogenate the oil, as there wasn’t enough butterfat for consumers back then.
In 1909, the US company Procter and Gamble acquired the rights to this patent. The hydrogenated shortening, Crisco, came into use. And, in 2007, it had to be altered to meet the standard of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which required ‘zero grams trans fat per serving’ (less than a gram per tablespoon).
Chemically, it is a lipid molecule that has a double bond. This double bond can exhibit two different kinds of configurations: cis and trans.
In case of trans (elaidic acid), the carbon chain is extended from the two sides, thus rendering it as a straight molecule; whilst in case of cis (oleic acid), the carbon chain extends from the same side of the double bond, making it a bent molecule. Only unsaturated fats can be trans fat and not the saturated, as saturated fats have no double bonds.
The most common fatty acid in our food is a monounsaturated fat omega-9 fatty acid called oleic acid. In the hydrogenation of vegetable oils, it is converted into a trans form called elaidic acid, forming margarine. It’s the one that’s widely used in the food industry for food-processing.
In simple words, during the heating process of unsaturated fats, the liquid is extracted either partially or wholly and a hydrogen atom added to it, thus hardening fat and forming what is called trans fat. This makes it almost impossible for any traces to oxidize, thus increasing the shelf-life of the foods it is used in.
Natural Trans Fat
It is found in the vegetable matter in the stomachs of ruminating animals, such as cows, goats, sheep, camels, llamas, giraffes, and rhinos. Some bacteria partially hydrogenate some of the unsaturated fats in their rumens, producing this natural fat. It can also be found in milk fat, cheese, and meat fat.
Bacterial hydrogenation on the other hand, converts oleic acid into vaccenic acid. It is further converted to conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been known to be an antioxidant with carcinogenic properties. Also, if we don’t have enough CLA in our bodies, dietary fat is stored as physical fat in our bodies, instead of being converted into muscle. CLA is found in traces in meat and unprocessed dairy products like milk, yogurt ,and cheese.
Adverse Effects on Health
This item has absolutely no nutritional value and can actually pose as a threat by even depleting the nutrition that you get from food.
Over the years of the evolution of man, he has eaten fats that come naturally, and has enzymes made to break down and digest the same. Industrially-made trans fat poses as quite a foreign thing to the digestive system. Our digestive systems don’t know what to do with it, and this interferes quite a bit with the foods, which our system knows instinctively how to digest, rendering it sluggish. Thus, the fat just goes on getting stored in our bodies, mainly in the form of visceral fat – one of the unhealthiest places to have fat around as it denotes problems of the liver, heart, and other coronary diseases. It certainly doesn’t provide your body with the essential fatty acids. So no matter how much you eat, those fatty foods don’t satisfy your basic bodily needs, making you eat more, thus leading to obesity and other weight issues.
- Type II Diabetes
The human digestive system can handle a certain amount of trans fat when it has to. But nowadays, with all the unnaturally processed food being eaten without giving much thought to what it could possibly be doing to our bodies, consuming this fat in substantial quantities is capable of changing the structure of the cell membrane and making it rather sickly and weak. The fat covers cells and makes it quite difficult for our bodies to process insulin, thus leading to type II diabetes and related problems.
- Liver Dysfunction
This fat hampers normal liver function by a cascade of signals, increasing the oxidative stress on it eventuating into inflammation. In mice, it has been found out that when they were fed on a diet high on this fat, they developed a fatty liver with traces of fibrosis. Fibrosis in later stages can lead to liver diseases and a full-blown liver cirrhosis as well.
- Cardiovascular Disease & High Cholesterol
This fat is capable of blocking arteries, thus making us highly susceptible to cardiovascular diseases. They do not help you with visceral fat reduction and put further pressure on your heart. They increase LDL and decrease HDL cholesterol levels. They also increase triglycerides that are esters, hardening arteries. They interfere with the normal functioning of endothelium (a layer of cells lining blood vessels from the inside) in the arteries, and this can be held responsible for the onset of a lot of risks of heart disease, including heart attacks.
Consumption of foods containing unsaturated fats has been linked to colon cancer. A perfect environment for cancer to grow, is high blood sugar levels and low oxygen levels, and intake of this fat doesn’t quite fail to provide this after a period of time.
- Energy levels
All the culminating stressful effects of the fat on your body gradually deplete your own energy levels – physical and mental.
Exercising a bit more Caution
They are widely found in deep-fried fast food and takeaways, packaged biscuits and crackers, cakes, donuts, pies, energy and nutrition bars, some packaged cereals, and plenty other processed foods that you might be eating daily.
Develop a habit of reading the ‘Ingredients List’ on the package of the products you buy and not just the ‘Nutrition Facts’. It has been said that up to 1 percent of your daily intake of fats can be trans fat. A lot of products claim to be free of this ingredient, but if you look at the ‘Ingredients List’, they do have partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Only when the fat content is 0.5g or more is it listed in the ‘Nutrition Facts’. So, if you eat about 10 products daily, happily assuming them to be fat-free, you might just be scoffing down about 5 grams of this unhealthy product unknowingly. Not a very endearing thought, and certainly not something you need!
Large Food Corporations and Countries Waking Up
With all the clamor after realizing the dangers this fat produces, various laws are being introduced in countries in deference to its production and usage in food companies. Large food corporations have used this content in their products as a way to make profit by increasing the shelf-life of their food. For instance, the Australian McDonald’s is said to have begun to take, after all these years, certain steps in order to switch from the (shockingly) high fat containing oil they were using, to a new oil (a blend of canola and high oleic sunflower) for their famous fries. The new oil is supposedly cholesterol-free and low in trans fat. They’re about to start printing the nutrition facts on their food packages.
Denmark became the first country to introduce strict laws regulating the sale of many foods that contained trans fat, followed by Switzerland, in April 2008. United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency wanted better labeling for foods. Australia, Canada, and the United States too, are taking necessary steps to reduce the fat drastically in the processed foods that are being sold.
A lot of foods that contain high amounts of unsaturated fats are usually stripped off the various nutrients that your body truly needs – such as fiber, vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and others, thus making you tired, fatigued, and irritable, weakening your immune system, making you painfully sick, and eventually, putting a whole load of stress on your medical bills. Avoiding hydrogenated oils and switching to organic foods and healthy eating can drastically improve your health and mental functioning, making you emotionally sound. Now, you’re the one who’s free to make that choice of who you want to cater to – the business of large food corporations or your health.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.