Trans Fat’s Silent Deadly Cousins

Certain sayings, such as “the cat is out of the bag,” can leave one wondering as to its peculiar origin. How did the cat get out of the bag? And perhaps more importantly, how did it get in there in the first place? And why is it a secret? Regardless, when it comes to trans fat, the cat is most definitely out of the bag. Many consumers avoid trans fat like the plague (that saying at least makes a little more sense), and for good reason. This mostly man-made fat molecule is very stable at room temperature and provides a nice, rich flavor. What it also provides though, is heart disease and poor health. Trans fats not only increase bad cholesterol, they also decrease good cholesterol and are often found in snack foods and fast food, which you should probably try and avoid anyway.

But two new and dangerous cousins of trans fats have hit the markets and may be just as dangerous, if not more dangerous. One is interesterified oils and the other is fractionated oils. It’s only reasonable that once America learned to avoid trans fat, food companies would create some new fats that were shelf-stable, delicious, and deadly.

Without getting into too much chemistry, interesterified oils are similar to trans fat in that they are chemically modified natural oils. The modification is done to increase the stability of the oil and the shelf-life of the food. But what they also do is decrease the shelf-life of the person who eats them. Because they are new on the scene, more research needs to be done in order to ascertain whether or not they are harmful. But early results are in and it doesn’t look good. Most early studies have found that, like trans fat, interesterified oils lead to increased bad (LDL) cholesterol and decreased good (HDL) cholesterol. In addition, they also appear to mess with one’s blood sugar/insulin response, and lead to overall higher blood glucose, a major precursor to diabetes.

Fractionated oils are another trans fat replacement that companies are sneaking into food as well. A fractionated oil is one that has been separated in order to provide, again, a more stable shelf-life. This process is commonly done to tropical oils such as palm oil. And often, they use only the oil from the kernel of the palm, which cannot be extracted organically and instead is extracted by a chemical similar to gasoline. Yum. The process results in a fat that is more saturated and leads to its higher melting point (picture butter vs. olive oil at room temperature). But saturated fat is also directly related to blood cholesterol levels and should be eaten only sparingly.

It seems then that you should try and avoid both interesterified oils and fractionated oils just as vigorously as you avoid trans fat. There are two important overall points here to consider. The first is that any unnaturally modified fat molecule is probably going to be extremely detrimental to overall health. If a scientist in a lab is creating the fat in your food, you can be sure that it is bad for you. This is simply because the human body has not evolved to process the molecule in a beneficial and healthful way. Fats like trans fat, interesterified oils, and fractionated oils have only been a significant part of the human diet for the past 50 years or so. The other point to keep in mind is this: if a food contains one of these modified fat molecules, you probably shouldn’t be eating it anyway. The list of foods that commonly contain these fats are things like donuts, cookies, pastries, fried foods, and other sugary snack foods. There is nothing at all healthy about any of these foods. So try and avoid these man-made fats at all costs, and also consider whether or not you should be eating anything that contains these harmful molecules.

Article Courtesy:  Andrew Steingrube

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