If there’s one thing you should definitely avoid, it is trans fat.
Fat, which is widely distributed throughout the human diet, is comprised of fatty acids, with two major types. Saturated fatty acids are solid at room temperature and are found in animal flesh, cheese, butter, and some dairy products. Unsaturated fatty acids are found in plants, nuts, seeds, fish, avocados, and olives, and are liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are considered healthy because they are known to keep our total cholesterol low, especially the bad type (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) while increasing the amount of good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL). They also keep our blood less sticky and less prone to clotting while improving blood sugar and decreasing inflammation.
The third type of fatty acid in our diet is artificially produced by using a type of unsaturated oil, such as sunflower oil, and injecting it with hydrogen in the presence of pressure, heat, and oxygen. The net effect is trans fat, which is now a solid, stable compound that can be used to manufacture margarine, commercially produced baked goods, frozen foods, and packaged snack foods.
Trans fats are toxic to the human body because they raise LDL and lower HDL. Trans fats can also invade fatty membranes throughout the body, causing blood clotting, inflammation, and an increase in free radical activity. This is especially true regarding cardiovascular health, where the intake of trans fats has been frequently associated with the increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, arthritis, and peripheral vascular disease.
The trans fat that you eat comes from foods that have been deep-fried in unsaturated fatty acids. This process changes the oil to one containing a higher concentration of trans fats, and that’s exactly what your deep-fried fast-food contains.
There’s no reason why you should put this toxic fat into your body, because it comes with a ton of health problems. Here are a few suggestions to avoid this toxic fat:
1. Increase your consumption of foods which contain healthy fats! These include raw nuts and seeds, or their corresponding oils. Some of the best sources of healthy fats are almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, flax, hemp, sunflowers, and pumpkins. Increase your consumption of avocados, olives, and their corresponding oils, too. These oils should be purchased in dark bottles and not subjected to any heat.
2. Fish, especially the cold water variety, should be consumed several times per week. The best kinds to eat are cod, mackerel, sardines, tuna, salmon, and anchovies. These foods contain the important omega-3 class of unsaturated fatty acids, which are essential, and thus must be ingested from food intake.
3. Try to avoid fried foods, packaged snack foods, frozen foods, hard margarine, and vegetable shortening. In Canada, there are laws ensuring that foods are labeled, so you’ll be able to find out how much trans fat a product has from its nutritional label. Unfortunately, fast-food restaurants do not usually indicate the amounts of trans fat that their foods contain.
Brouwer, I.A., et al., “Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular health: research completed?” Eur J Clin Nutr. March 27, 2013 [Epub ahead of print].
Menaa, F., et al., “Trans-fatty acids, dangerous bonds for health? A background review paper of their use, consumption, health implications and regulation in France,” Eur J Nutr. December 27, 2012 [Epub ahead of print].
Salter, A.M., “Dietary fatty acids and cardiovascular disease,” Animal. March 2013: 163-171.
Schwenke, D.C., et al., “Plasma concentrations of trans fatty acids in persons with type 2 diabetes between September 2002 and April 2004,” Am J Clin Nutr. April 2013; 97(4): 862-71.
“Tackling trans fat,” EatRight Ontario web site; http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Fat/Tackling-Trans-Fat.aspx