This month, we've asked our Expert Panel members to answer this question: "What is your opinion on trans fats in our food supply?"
It's important to remember that not all members of our Expert Panel will agree with one another.
And that we (Low Carb Luxury) may not necessarily always agree with our panel members. But each of them bring
some valuable insight to the table. And each has tried to share their viewpoints and reasons behind them.
First, an explanation of trans fats...
Trans Fats are formed during the process of partial hydrogenation in which
liquid vegetable oils are converted to margarine and vegetable shortening.
A brief history of
Over the past 50+ years, hydrogenated oils have
become a prevalent part of most of our diets. The hydrogenation process alters oils
in a very basic way. In fact, it changes the molecular structure of them, producing
a fat quite different from any naturally occurring in food. Margarine by definition
is made of hydrogenated oils and is the most common source of hydrogenated oil in our
diets. "Health food store" brands are just as hydrogenated as any others.
These oils have become so commonplace in prepared foods that it is a major feat
to avoid them. Start reading packaging in processed foods in the grocery and you'll see
what we mean!
Hydrogenated oils were first sold to the American public as a cheap substitute for
butter. Hydrogenation hardens or saturates a naturally liquid oil. Ironically margarine
was originally marketed as a healthful alternative to saturated fats like butter and lard.
The truth is that although they were advertised as "unsaturated" by all the major
margarine companies, they only started out as unsaturated oils. The final product was
in fact quite saturated. Trans fatty acids are break-down products of oils and are
increasingly under attack as major contributors to disease.
Hydrogenated oils generally contain 30%-40% trans fatty acids, more by far than any
natural source. Hydrogenated oils are the chief source of trans fatty acids in our
diet. New research into the role fats & oils play in human health has indicated
that trans fatty acids are connected with an increased incidence of cancer, heart
disease, elevated cholesterol levels and a host of other health problems.
How is Hydrogenation
Hydrogenation is a way of making vegetable oil
harden at room temperature. Small particles of nickel or copper are added and the mix
is heated to very high temperatures under pressure for up to eight hours while hydrogen
gas is injected. This process destroys the essential fatty acids in the oil and replaces
them with deformed trans fatty acids. They compete with essential fatty acids for
absorption in the body. This blocks or delays the work of the essential fatty acids,
creating deficiencies and imbalance throughout the metabolism, including fatty deposits
in the arteries.
Concern has existed that this process may have adverse consequences because natural essential
fatty acids are destroyed and the new artificial isomers are structurally similar to
saturated fats, lack the essential metabolic activity of the parent compounds, and
inhibit the enzymatic desaturation of linoleic and linolenic acid.
In the past 8 years, a series of metabolic studies has provided unequivocal evidence that trans fatty
acids increase plasma concentrations of low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and reduce
concentrations of high-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol relative to the parent
natural fat. In these same studies, trans fatty acids increased the plasma ratio of
total to HDL cholesterol nearly twofold compared with saturated fats.
On the basis of these metabolic effects and the known relation of blood lipid concentrations to risk of
coronary artery disease, we estimate conservatively that 30,000 premature deaths per
year in the United States are attributable to consumption of trans fatty acids.
Epidemiological studies, although not conclusive on their own, are consistent with adverse
effects of this magnitude or even larger. Because there are no known nutritional benefits
of trans fatty acids and clear adverse metabolic consequences exist, prudent public
policy would dictate that their consumption be minimized and that information on the
trans fatty acid content of foods be available to consumers.
The Institue of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, declared there is no safe
amount of trans fat in the diet.
A 2% increase in trans fats can increase a woman's risk of heart disease by 93%!
The Final Rule on Trans Fat:
- Manufacturers of conventional foods and some dietary supplements will be required to list trans fat on a
separate line, immediately under saturated fat on the nutrition label.
- Food manufacturers have until Jan. 1, 2006, to list trans fat on the nutrition label. The phase-in
period minimizes the need for multiple labeling changes, allows small businesses to use current label
inventories, and provides economic savings.
- FDA's regulatory chemical definition for trans fatty acids is all unsaturated fatty acids that contain
one or more isolated (i.e., nonconjugated) double bonds in a trans configuration. Under the agency's
definition, conjugated linoleic acid would be excluded from the definition of trans fat.
- Dietary supplement manufacturers must also list trans fat on the Supplement Facts panel when their
products contain reportable amounts (0.5 gram or more) of trans fat. Examples of dietary supplements
with trans fat are energy and nutrition bars.
Much of the above information comes from Dr. Mary G. Enig and Drs. Ascherio and Willett, Department of Nutrition,
Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA and reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
(Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Oct; 66 (4 Suppl): 1006S-1010S)
From Richard Feinman, Ph.D.
Professor of Biochemistry
State University of New York Downstate Medical Center
Giving up trans-fats seems like a good idea since recommendations to avoid them are
generally agreed on and, like exercise, are one of the few demilitarized zones in
what are still popularly called the diet wars. Which is not to say everybody abides
by the conditions. Only a couple of years ago, in one of those unpleasant debates,
possibly in NEJM, somebody expressed the sentiment that they were concerned about
the Atkins diet because of the trans-fats. Although hardly the best presentation,
warnings in the Atkins book are unambiguous. The history is also amusing in that
low fat advocates were pushing margarine for so many years and, at least anecdotally,
were dismissing reports of the presence of trans-fats.
In any case, since everybody
is opposed to them and their use in food frequently has an unpalatable effect, there
seems little reason not to avoid them. Looking at the science, however, the case
against trans-fat is not nearly as impressive as, say, the case for exercise; as
far as I know, the mechanism is not known. Most people point to epidemiologic
studies of Hu and Willett which show significant increase in relative risk of
cardiovascular disease in substituting trans-fats for unsaturated fats. Without
even considering the interpretation of relative risk, their data show that the
effect is less than that of replacing unsaturated fats with carbohydrates.
If for some reason you made a pact with the devil requiring you to keep at least
one generally undesirable food in your diet, I would give up high fructose corn
syrup before trans-fats.
From Fred Pescatore, M.D.
The Centers For Integrative and Complementary Medicine
Author of The Hamptons Diet
Trans fats are the most dangerous forms of fat, and should have been eliminated years ago. As
little as three grams of trans fat are enough to lead to an increased risk for heart disease
and there are nine grams of trans fat in a single donut!
Trans fats will be required to be labeled by January 2006, but the hidden sources are in
packaged foods that use "partially hydrogenated" anything. Look for it in the ingredient
list until such time as the label laws come into effect.
Replace those fats with healthy monounsaturated fats. According to the latest research, we
should be getting 80% of the fats in our diets from these sources. Foods that are rich in
monounsaturated fats include macadamia nut oil, avocados, and olives.
From Pete Maletto
Copyright © October 2004 Low Carb Luxury
Chief Science Officer
The trans fat question from a food development perspective?
I've always felt trans fat was something easily avoided in the development process of foods.
In fact, when formulating a product, it was one of the many things I would always take into
consideration. I'd analyze the product marketplace (natural or mass), process parameters (as
far as heat and storage are concerned), and consumer shelf life. Only then could we continue
with the formulation process.
Having an extensive background in alternative medicine and life extension, I'd come to realize
that trans fats were exceptionally dangerous for the human body. One of the negative side effects
of ingesting them is something we call "oxidative stress." When trans fats are ingested, blood
platelet viscosity is changed, and circulating excessive oxidation within arterial walls results
in aging, cracking and oxidized plaque buildup.
If you have trouble visualizing that scenario, perhaps I can help: Think of a car that has a
cracked radiator hose. There's a reason it cracked: It was due to oxidation. Over time, that
oxidation causes it to eventually collapse or burst. The same process happens in human arteries
as trans fats accelerate oxidation.
So, how to get around them? There are many heat stable/shelf stable oils to use responsibly in
food development. One such oil is High Oleic Sunflower. The obvious drawback is that it's very
expensive to use. Its best attribute is that it won't manifest oxidative changes when heat or
extensive shelf time is applied. But then again, we are talking cost here... both ingredient cost,
and product life cost.
Trans fats are the darlings of the food industry for a reason. These very fatty acids are formed
during the process of hydrogenation, which converts unsaturated liquid fatty acids into solid ones.
The result is an exceptionally prolonged shelf life, because hydrogenated fats are not as
susceptible to oxidation as natural oils. They last practically forever.
Increased shelf life equals increased profit — simple as that. The problem is that what may
be great for the shelf is not so great for your body.
Read your labels and look for the "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" verbiage and avoid
it like the plague. Although sometimes unavoidable, reducing or eliminating trans fat in the diet
is a great way to life extension and prolonged health!
Title photo Copyright © 2004 Neil Beaty for Low Carb Luxury