They were introduced into our diet in 1911. By 2006, Uncle Sam says "trans fats" must be listed on all food labels. Sadly, these silent killers will have had a free ride on our health for 95 years. Harvard School of Public Health reports that 30,000 American deaths are the direct result of eating trans fats, making this an atrocity for which the food industry needs to answer to. Other research suggests that trans fatty acids interfere with vision and learning in children; correlate with increased breast and prostate cancer; increase platelet stickiness and thereby raise risk of stroke and embolism, as well as heart attack. Trans fats also interfere with the liver's detoxification function. They impair both male and female reproduction in animals (no human studies have been published). trans fats change the way our immune system functions. And trans fats make essential n-3 and n-6 fatty acid requirement higher by interfering with the functions of these two essential fatty acids in our body.
The FDA ruling that trans fats must be listed on food labels by the year 2006 is one of the most praiseworthy actions ever undertaken by that agency. If trans fatty acids are not listed on labels, as they have not been for almost 100 years, consumers cannot make wise choices for their health. Obviously, full disclosure of all ingredients on packaged foods and accurate guidelines are required for healthy food choices.
It is clear that consumers are interested in health and are willing to follow guidelines. To their detriment, they followed the recommendations made 20 years ago by US government "health experts" to eat less fat (they should have been told to eat less bad fat and more good fat). They obligingly reduced their fat intake from 42% of calories to 32% of calories. Consumers were also told to eat more carbohydrates, and they did that, too. That piece of bad advice (carbohydrates are the least important food because there are no essential carbohydrates) led overweight to increase from 25% of the population to 65%. Obesity has more than doubled. Childhood obesity has more than tripled. Diabetes has close to doubled -- all because of poor nutritional advice from so called "experts. Those who maintain people are not willing to make changes in their diet to improve health are not paying attention to what is going on.
So, where are trans fats found? Theyre namely in processed and convenience foods. Trans fats are present in: partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are found in many margarines and in shortening; some granola bars, breakfast cereals, low fat foods, fish sticks, frozen pizza and french fries, and other frozen foods; many baked goods (baked bads?) such as donuts, crackers, cookies, cakes, bread, and frostings; some puddings, peanut butter, instant soup mixes, and microwave popcorn; some spreads, sauces, dips, and gravy mixes; powdered nondairy coffee creamers; they are used for frying in many fast food restaurants; many junk snacks like potato and corn chips and even in some cooking oils.
Not all of the above foods contain trans fats, and all of the above foods could be made without them. You have to read labels to find out whether they contain trans fats. The words "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (including corn, soybean and canola oil)" or the words "vegetable shortening" indicate that trans fats are present.
To find out how much trans fat is present in a food, you have to do some math. If you subtract from the total fat in a product the sum of adding
saturated + monounsaturated + polyunsaturated fat, the number you get is the amount of trans fat in the product. When trans fats are listed by quantities on the label, consumers' choices will be a lot simpler. And that's what full disclosure is about.
If you eat fresh, whole, organic foods the way Nature made them, you will get no trans fats in most products. Only dairy fat (homogenized milk, whole milk, butter, cream, sour cream, cream cheese, and cheese) and beef, lamb and goat meat always contain some trans fats. If non-dairy meat animals are fed feed containing trans fats, these trans fats may end up in the meat, then on our table, and then in our body. This is a good reason for meat eaters to choose 'free range' or 'range fed' meat and 'wild catch' fish.
In three years from now, health-damaging trans fats will require listing on labels. The research is strong, the industry resistant, and the FDA has-finally-been forced to face the issue for the sake of the citizens. Without listing trans fats on labels, consumers are robbed of choice. Certified organic meat does not contain trans fats.
While we wait, we can easily avoid trans fats by eating whole, fresh foods the way nature intended them, which is the way they are best for our health. By avoiding processed foods, many of which contain trans fats, we can serve our health without trying to decipher labels and fine print hidden
in packaging crevices.
Udo Erasmus holds a Ph.D. In Nutrition and is the author of "Fats that Heal Fats that Kill. For more information, please visit: www.udoerasmus.com