“No trans-fats”or “0g trans-fats” hearken to us from every food aisle and fast food restaurants these days. Entire cities and communities have banned trans-fats from within their borders. It seems everyone had jumped on the bandwagon! But are the foods we eat any healthier? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is probably NO!
Trans-fats (also known as partially or fully hydrogenated oils) were originally produced as early as 1900 and introduced commercially in 1911 by Crisco. These fats were widely introduced into processed foods in the 1960’s and 1970’s as a “healthy” alternative to naturally occurring saturated fats. Prior to the 1960’s, naturally occurring saturated fats were used in a wide variety of processed foods to retard spoilage and prolong taste. Trans-fats were embraced, at the encouragement of the FDA, once diets high in saturated fats were identified as unhealthy. Now, after over 30 years of investigation, research has shown that diets which include trans-fats increase the risk of coronary heart disease as much as, and possibly more than, diets high in naturally occurring saturated fat. Thus the food industry has rushed to change marketing tactics and processes to remove trans-fats from processed foods and labels. However, what the food industry has done is to create another type of shelf-stable, solid at room temperature, spoilage retardant, man-made fat to replace trans-fats. These “new” man-made fats are known as interesterified fats, “high stearate” fats or “stearic-rich” fats. Interesterified fats are oils, such as soybean oil, that have been chemically modified to replace the polyunsaturated fatty acid with a saturated fatty acid. This is done in order to make them more solid, less liable to go rancid and more stable for applications such as deep frying. This would all seem wonderful at first glance. We know trans-fats are worse than saturated fats. We know trans-fats lower our HDL and increase our LDL. We know that trans-fats increase our risk for coronary artery disease. But do we know what interesterified fats will do? Recent research has shown that interesterified fats may be even worse for us than trans-fats. In a paper published online in the January 15, 2007 issue of Nutrition and Metabolism, Dr Kalyana Sundram reported that compared with a diet high in palm olein (a saturated fat), diets high in either trans fats or interesterified fats significantly raise both LDL/HDL ratio and fasting blood glucose while significantly reducing fasting insulin levels. In fact, after only 4 weeks, diets high in interesterified fats lowered blood insulin levels by 22% and raised fasting glucose levels by as much as 20%. With results like these, the health implications surrounding interesterified fats seem sobering.
So now that we know, what do we do? God has provided us with an abundance of healthy and tasty food and it comes to us beautifully packaged in greens, in fields and on trees. Eating the majority of our calories from nutrient dense, plant-based foods prepared simply not only eases our pocketbooks, shortens our waistline, decreases our incidence of disease, it also sets us free from worrying about the long term health effects of man-made food. What could be simpler or easier?