Ever wondered what trans fats are?
The story begins way back in the 19th Century, when the first attempts at hydrogenating oils began. Then in the first years of the 20th Century, the process was perfected. Hydrogenated oils were meant to replace butter and lard in cooking.
Trans fats are liquid oils and fats that have been hydrogenated.
Oil is heated while hydrogen gas passes through it. The small bubbles of hydrogen give body to the liquid oil.
Margarine and other semi-solid and solid cooking products are the result.
Why Were Bad Trans Fats Made?
The introduction of hydrogenated cooking fats came along with a shortage of buttermilk, so public acceptance (with a helpful nudge from attractive advertising) was rapid. The use of hydrogenation also meant that oils that might otherwise be considered unsuitable, such as fish oils, could be used without the consumer being any the wiser.
Plus, trans fat carriers like these were cheap to produce.
Trans fats are so named because they have been basically ‘transformed’ from their original forms by heat and hydrogen.
Most of us have heard about the damage that trans fats can do to the body and why trans fats are bad, but these dangers were unknown before the 1990s.
Manufacturers of baked goods and other foods love trans fats because they are not only much cheaper to use than butter or coconut oil, but because they also give the product a much longer shelf life.
Profit margin can be much greater than if ‘real’ shortening was used.
Reasons Why Trans Fats are Unhealthy
Ever since trans fat dangers have become publicized, many people have become more careful with the products they purchase. It is always important to read the ingredients label before putting anything into your cart.
Trans fats have been linked to heart disease, cancer, and arthritis, among other problems, so it’s important to remove them as much as possible from your diet.
Your body requires fats in order for normal metabolic functions to be carried out. Every cell needs energy to work and help your body keep going. A healthy fat binds to the cell wall as it should, to help provide fuel for the cell to work with, and allows other necessary substances to pass into the cell.
Trans fat upsets things because it binds to the cell wall, but does not provide the necessary fatty acids and actually prevents the other vital substances required for metabolism to get into the cell.
It has been said that trans fats contribute to at least 100,000 fatal heart attacks every year in the United States.
This is no small number, especially for an avoidable problem.
Not only do trans fats interfere with normal cellular metabolism, they also raise the levels of harmful cholesterol, LDL while lowering the level of HDL, which is a beneficial cholesterol.
Ironically, while we were taught to fear certain foods because they contain cholesterol, most of the natural foods that do so will raise the amount of good cholesterol in the blood, even if they also raise LDL.
Coronary heart disease is not the only health problem associated with trans fats, however. Diseases such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, arthritis, and even the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease have been linked to the consumption of trans fats.
While research data is still being compiled in many cases, it certainly does not mean that we cannot err on the side of caution.
Interestingly, obesity is also linked to trans fats, although not strictly as a matter of caloric overload. Trans fats do not provide the fatty acids our bodies need, so in order to try desperately to acquire these important nutrients, people will keep eating and eating, although all the trans fat saturated food in the world will not satisfy the need.
Many fast food restaurants have switched from using trans fats, generally in response to consumer groups pointing out the threat these hydrogenated fats pose. However, most cookies, crackers, pastries, and other baked good found in grocery stores still contain trans fats, so be diligent at checking the ingredients list.