Trans fats are fats that get hydrogen atoms added to their structure (a carbon chain). Food chemists started ‘hydrogenating’ fats as a way of keeping vegetable oil-containing foods from going rancid. This was done for two reasons: because consumers basically don’t like chemical preservatives being added to their foods; and because the food companies were too cheap to use natural preservatives (like vitamin E or fat-soluble vitamin C). Food which contained these fats included crackers, cookies, chips, and other products that had to sit on shelves for a long time. The American food supply became, in effect, a ‘living laboratory’ to test the effects of these fats on a large population, long before these should have been tested for safety in humans.
Hydrogenating fats makes them more saturated, which was one clue that they might not be so good for us. The second came from studies in mice, which found that trans fats messed with key processes involved in fat metabolism. Those of us who were reading these studies knew what was coming, but not when it would arrive. After studies in human populations found evidence of higher risks for heart disease, clinical studies in human volunteers followed. These found that trans fats raised our bad (LDL) cholesterol more than even saturated fats did. Even worse, while saturated fats raise both bad and good (HDL) cholesterol, trans fats lower HDL. The experiment is now over, and the score is still: Food companies 1, American consumers, zero.
Rick Weissinger, MS, RD, LDN, CPT
Author, WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY ABOUT FOOD AND CANCER
Co-author, NUTRITION GUIDE FOR CLINICIANS, editions 1 and 2
Web site: www.idomnt.com