Bad fats for you: Trans fats

By Orlando Huaman* 06 June 2018, 12:00AM

On May 14 2018, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) urged developing countries to eliminate man-made trans fatty acids from our food supplies. By doing so countries could reduce a tidal wave of heart disease and strokes that results in more than ½ million death annually. 

Not only that. Here is a list of other health risks of the negative consequences  of trans fat consumption beyond the cardiovascular risk: Alzheimer’s Disease; cancer; Type 2 diabetes; Obesity; Liver dysfunction; Infertility in women; Major depressive disorder; Behavioral irritability and aggression; and Diminished memory.

“Trans fats is an unnecessary toxic chemical that that kills, and there is no reason people around the world should continue to be exposed” Said Dr. Tom Frieden, of the Center for Disease Control (CDC).” “The cost of transitioning to healthier fats is very small and the cost of treating cardiovascular disease is very high” Dr. Willett (WHO).

Some trans fats occur naturally in our dairy food and meat from ruminant animals. These do not raise major health concerns.

So, how trans fats are made? They are made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils (Soybean Oil; Cottonseed oil; Corn Oil; Peanut Oil: Safflower Oil; Sunflower Oil; Olive Oil; Rapeseed Oil; Coconut Oil; Palm Kernel Oil; and Palm Oil.) converting liquid fats to a solid at room temperature.

Why these trans fats are so popular? Because these “partially hydrogenated” oils made processed foods cheaper to produce while extending their shelf life, and they quickly became an ingredient in bakery and snack food devoured across the world.

It was in the mid-1990’s scientists began to turn up evidence that consuming trans fatty acids  throws blood cholesterol out of whack, raising levels of bad cholesterol and reducing levels of the good cholesterol.

By next month, that is June, 2018! Food manufacturers supplying U.S. consumers are expected to have reformulated their products to drive down trans fats to negligible levels. How about our good old Samoan SAME, “unfortunately” we don’t manufacture such things; we only consume!

But as wealthy countries have acted to expunge trans fats from their citizens’ diets, the ill effects have shifted to countries that relied heavily on trans fats to deliver inexpensive processed foods to their growing middle classes.

The problem in poorer countries, like Samoa, is that there isn’t as much surveillance and government oversight of the food supply, and in their absence you find the small time vendors much prefer the use of these particular hydrogenated fats. What is more, the profit motive is going to favor their use until there is enough political will to intervene. Government oversight in Samoa? You must be kidding. How about the 30 million merger fiasco, and the 140 million tala brand new flying white elephant.?

Nutritional Guidelines. The National Academy of Science’s findings and recommendation regarding consumption are based on two key facts. First, “trans fatty acids are not essential and provide no known benefit to human health”, whether of animal or plant origin. Second, while both saturated and trans fats increase level of the bad cholesterol, trans fats also lower levers of the good cholesterol, thus increasing the risk of coronary artery disease. 

Despite this concern, the NAS have not recommended   the elimination of trans fat from the diet. This is because trans fat  is naturally present in many animal foods in trace quantities, and therefore its removal from ordinary diets might introduce undesirable side effects and nutrition imbalances. The NAS has, therefore “recommended that trans fatty acid consumption be as low as possible while consuming  a nutritionally adequate diet”. 

Like the NAS, the WHO have tried to balance public health goals with a practical level of trans fat consumption recommending in 2003 that trans fats be limited  to less than 1 % of overall energy intake.

Mandatory food labeling  for trans fats was introduced in several countries. Campaigns were launched  by activist to bring attention to the issue  and change the practices  of food manufacturers. Example in January 2007, faced with the prospect of an outright ban on the sale of their product, Crisco was reformulated to meet the FDA definition of “zero grams trans fats per serving” (that is less than one gram per tablespoon, or up to 7% by weight; or less than 0.5 grams per serving size)

Trans fats is abundant in fast food restaurants. As fast foods chains routinely use different fats in different locations. Example samples of McDonald’s French fries  served in New York  contained twice as much fat as in Hungary, 30% more trans fats than those from Atlanta, and 28 times  as much as in Denmark, where trans fats are restricted. At KFC, the pattern was reversed.

Up to 45 % of the total fat in those foods containing artificial trans fats formed by partially hydrogenated plant fats may be trans fat. Baking shortening, unless reformulated, contain around 30% trans fats compared to their total fats. High fat dairy products such as butter contain about 45. Margarine not reformulated to reduce trans fats may contain up to 15% trans by weight, but some reformulated ones are less than 1% trans fat.

Trans fat level may be measured. Measurement techniques include chromatography, gas chromatography and mid-infrared spectroscopy are other measure in use.

Presence in food.

Trans fat content in various foods, ranked in g per 100 g.

 Shortenings 10 to 33 g; Margarine/spreads 0.2 to 26 g; Butter 2 to 7 g: Bread/cake products 0.1 to 10 g.

10 foods that are full of trans fats: 1.- Cakes, pies and pie crust. 2.- Biscuits and sweet rolls. 3.- Breakfast sandwiches. 4.- Margarine. 5.-Crackers. 6.-Microwave popcorn. 7.- Cream fills candies. 8.- Doughnuts. 9.- Fried fat foods. 10.- Frozen pizzas.

Also, but in less degree: French fries (anything fried or battered); Shortenings; Cake mix and frosties; Pancakes and waffles; Fried chicken; Ice cream; Non dairy creams; Ground beef; Frozen or cream beverages; Meat sticks; Frozen dinners; Asia crunchy noodles; Canned chili; Packaged pudding.

The international trade in food is standardized in the Codex Alimentarius. Hydrogenated oils and fats come under the scope of Codex Stan 19.


*Orlando Huaman is a food technologist and freelance writer. Malololelei.

By Orlando Huaman* 06 June 2018, 12:00AM

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