Monday, February 4, 2008

From The Vault: Artificial Fats Are Killing You

Did you know that artificial fats are in much of the food that you buy? Did you know that this artificial fat, called trans fatty acid, is slowly killing you? [A lot of you probably do. So, next question... Are you doing anything about it?]

Next time you reach for the coffee creamer, the margarine, or even your favorite brand of potato chips, flip over the bag and take a look at the ingredients--if you see hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil of any type, you're eating a trans fatty acid.

What is a Trans Fatty Acid?
Imagine an oil as a string of carbon atoms that hang together like bulbs on a string of Christmas lights. Some oils are a bit more complicated, and have hydrogen atoms stuck on them. When the oil is completely filled with hydrogen atoms, the string of carbon is called a Saturated Fat. The way that the hydrogen sticks to the carbon is important. If the saturated fat is naturally occurring, the bond is called "cis." A regular saturated fat could be called a Cis Fatty Acid.

You guessed it, a Trans Fatty Acid is a lot like a regular saturated fat, except for the way that the hydrogen atoms stick to the carbon atoms. Trans fatty acids are made when food companies shoot hydrogen gas through oil. Some of the hydrogen sticks to the carbon, but in a rigid way that makes the food last longer on the shelf . When hydrogen is artificially attached to carbon like this, the bond configuration (the type of connection between the carbon and hydrogen) is called "trans." Saturated fat of this kind is called Trans Fatty Acid.

Why Is It So Bad?
Your body can't tell the difference between a normal cis fatty acid and an artificial trans fatty acid. When you eat a trans fatty acid, your body incorporates it into your cells--your cells actually become hydrogenated! The consequences include increased occurrence of heart disease, sexual dysfunction, weakened immune system, cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, and obesity.

What Foods Is It In?

Margarine, non-dairy coffee creamer, some whip creams, "soft-serve" ice creams, many breads, restaurant french fries, restaurant and supermarket fried chicken, restaurant and supermarket fried food of all types (sadly, old-style lard frying was healthier because frying took less time so less oil penetrated the food, and it was cis-fatty acid), most crackers, some "health" foods... the list goes on and on and on. Hydrogenated oil (trans fatty acid) is in more than 70% of processed foods found on store shelves!

What Can I Do?
It's up to you to check out the INGREDIENTS ahead of time for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil! Stop buying foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils. Lately, I’ve noticed that some foods come right out and say ‘No trans fats’ and ‘cold pressed oils’ in bold letters. You can find alternatives without this terrible additive. Here's the golden rule for eating right: Eat whole, unprocessed foods when possible. Try to buy foods that use cold pressed or expeller pressed oil in the ingredients (oils so labeled are unlikely to contain trace organic chemicals). Don't be afraid to consume foods high in natural fat, including animal fats (in moderation). No kidding. Good luck--be healthy!


Magica said...

Hi, Bruce!

I've been an avid ingredient checker and trans-fat avoider for several years now. I'm no expert though, so a recent trend has me confused. Over the past year or so, I've been seeing more and more products that claim, on bold letters on the front of the package, to be trans-fat free. Turn 'em over and look at the back, though, and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil is on the ingredient list. Since I've been under the impression (and you support that in your post) that that's the very definition of a trans fat, how do the claim to be trans-fat free while including hydrogenated oils?


Bruce Cordell said...

Magica, See my next "from the vault" blog post!