Trans fats are the corner stone of fast food cooking. A recent study revealed that even small amounts of trans fats led to alarming patterns of weight gain, atherosclerosis, and insulin resistance. Trans fats are the partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in the fryer at most fast-food chains; they are used in many commercial cookies, pies, and crackers. These fats are commercially popular because they are shelf-stable and resistant to high heat. In recent years, though, they’ve become public health enemy number one, as evidence mounted that they contribute to heart disease, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. In early 2006 new Food and Drug Administration rules went into effect requiring food labels to show trans fat content.
Studies set out to document the effects of a high trans-fat diet. But the results showed an impact far beyond hardened arteries. Two groups of male monkeys were fed different regimens over six years. Although the total calories and total dietary fat were the same for each group, the type of fat was not. One group receive trans fats, the other received traditional monosaturated fats. Over six years, monkeys on the trans fat diet added an average of 7.2% of their body mass, while the other group averaged just 1.8% increase. Worse, the new weight from trans fats showed up mostly around the abdomen, a pattern strongly associated with cardiovascular disease in humans. Ominously, the obesity-inducing monkey diet was not so different from the mainstream American diet. The trans fatty acids were roughly 8% of total energy. The conclusion: trans fats are clearly toxic to humans and have no place in human diets.
Trans Fats Go Right To Your Stomach. I was recently asked what one food item I would banish from the earth. My reply was partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats. On New Year’s Day, an FDA ruling goes into effect making it mandatory for food manufacturers to list the amount of trans fat on the nutrition label. This doesn’t eliminate them from foods. But manufacturers have been reformulating food items to reduce or remove these artery-clogging fats from their products or label them accordingly.
There’s solid evidence that trans fats increase cardiovascular risk, more so than saturated fat. They may also promote chronic inflammation, accelerate the aging process, and play a role in cancer.
Here’s my concern: Under the new rules, a product can claim it has no trans fat even though the ingredient list includes partially hydrogenated oil or vegetable shortening. The FDA allows products with less than half a gram of trans fat per serving to be considered trans fat free, meaning the amount of trans fat does not have to be listed separately on the nutrition label. They think this will confuse consumers and make them believe a food might be healthier than it is.
I consider anything made with trans fats to be a low-quality food. I make a serious effort to keep them out of my diet by carefully reading food labels, and I encourage you to do the same. I avoid margarine, vegetable shortening, and all products made with them or with partially hydrogenated oils of any kind. Although small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in meat and dairy products, they are insignificant compared to what’s found in baked goods, margarine, and packaged and fast foods. Unfortunately, foods served in restaurants are not affected by the FDA ruling.

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