Trans-Fat - The Food Villain

Fats are essential for good health and we need to consume them daily.But off late, there is a lot of fuss about trans-fats and its ill-effects on our health.

So, the question is - ‘What are these trans-fats?’ Where do they come from and how do we avoid them.

There are two types of naturally occurring fats in our foods - Unsaturated and Saturated fats.

Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and they are believed to improve our lipid profile by increasing the good cholesterol (HDL) and lowering the bad cholesterol (LDL).

Eg: Sunflower oil, olive oil, avocadoes etc.

Saturated fats on the other hand are solid at room temperature and tend to hamper our lipid profile as they prompt the liver to increase the production of bad cholesterol(Total cholesterol and LDL).Hence it is better to keep these fats to a minimum in the diet.

Eg: Meat, butter, whole milk, coconut oil, palm oil etc.

Trans-fats are third type of fatty acids that are artificially made and added to the processed foods in order to improve the taste and shelf life of the food products. However, these trans-fats have the tendency to increase our cholesterol way more than saturated fats. Infact, they also interfere with other fats which are heart healthy and lower their levels. In short they are bad for our cardiovascular health.

So why do we have such fats in use if they have such a bad impact over our health?

Food companies benefit from these trans-fatsas they do not turn rancid unlike vegetable oils and they have a longer shelf life. Moreover they are easy to use, cheap and impart desirable taste and texture to the food product. Thus they are exclusively used in high fat baked goods, pies, cakes, pastries, doughnuts, cookies, biscuits, crackers etc.

How are these trans-fatty acids made exactly?

Trans-fats are made by an industrial process whereby hydrogen is added to unsaturated vegetable oils. Therefore they are also referred as hydrogenated oil/ partially hydrogenated oil.

One study conducted by National Diabetes, Obesity and Cholesterol (N-DOC) Foundation and IIT Delhi and Diabetes Foundation of India (DFI) has revealed that reuse of oils in home cooked foods forms high levels of trans fatty acids.

Are there any naturally occurring trans-fats in our foods?

There are small traces of trans fats in naturally occurring dairy products like beef, lamb and butter fat but there are no sufficient studies to prove their bad impact over our lipid profile as compared to the industrially processed trans fats.

How to identify & limit foods that contain trans-fats?

  • • Read the nutrition facts on the labels and check for saturated fatty acids content.
  • • Apart from the examples of foods listed above, any product which states partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is a rich source of trans-fats.
  • • Eat diet rich in whole grains, whole fruits, low fat dairy products, poultry, fish, and nuts. Also avoid red meat and sugaryfoods.

Caution: There are a lot of baked goods/processed foods which may not have trans fats but they can be using some similar kind of fat for increasing the shelf life and escaping from the labelling procedure or calling it trans-fat free.

So how do we keep safe distance from such foods?

Tip: Avoid/Restrict consumption of processed foods as much as possible.

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