Not all fats are bad. Just like other nutrients required by the body, it would be incorrect to overlook the importance of fats in our diet. The question, however, is “which” type of fat is good and which type of fat is harmful. Natural trans fats present in fish, nuts, meat, and eggs are not harmful. As a matter of fact, fish oil is good fat, and is also considered to be a healthy for the heart.
Trans fats are those that must be avoided at all costs. These are saturated fats manufactured by artificial industrial processes with an aim towards increasing the shelf life of food products. Trans fats are used as preserving agents in highly processed foods such as margarine, biscuits, cinnamon rolls, crackers, cakes, bakery product using shortening, potato wafers, and other foods. Prolonged consumption of trans fats leads to high levels of the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and reduced levels of the “good” cholesterol (HDL).
Why are Trans Fats used in Foods?
Trans fats are found in trace amounts in dairy foods and meat, which are seldom harmful if consumed in moderation. However, it is the artificial process of adding hydrogen to vegetable oils (hydrogenation), which lends oil the attribute of solidifying at normal room temperature. This hydrogenated vegetable oil is nothing but, trans fat. The addition of hydrogenated vegetable oil to foods prevents them from spoilage which in turn enhances their shelf life.
Furthermore, fast food outlets use huge quantities of hydrogenated vegetable oils in deep fryers since these don’t need to be replaced as often as the other oils. The consumption of trans fat exposes us to the risk of developing heart disease, strokes and other lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.
Margarine Better than Butter: A Myth
In order to avoid the ill effects of consuming butter, most people opt for butter substitutes such as margarine, which is “supposed” to be low in fats. However, little is it known that margarine is a storehouse of trans fat. How? Here’s how: Unlike butter which is derived by the churning of milk and cream, the production of margarine either involves hydrogenation of vegetable oils or the emulsification of vegetable oils with fatless milk.
Although the cholesterol levels in margarine are low as compared to butter, the presence of trans fat in the former proves to be even more harmful. Also, butter contains vitamins such as A, K, D, and E, which are not present in margarine. Thus, it is better to consume butter in moderate amounts than margarine.
Know the Oils that you Take
One of the best ways of staying away from trans fat is to completely avoid foods containing these. For that, you must go through the list of ingredients on the labels of food products and look for terms such as “partially hydrogenated fat”, “hydrogenated vegetable oils”, or “hydrogenated fats”. One must also stick to a balanced diet that contains substantial amounts of vegetables and fresh fruits.
Also, it is best to use liquid oils derived from vegetables, seeds, and flowers for frying purposes. If you’re trying to avoid trans fats, it is advisable to stay off snacks such as cakes, pastries, cookies, and biscuits. Finally, the next time you order that fried meat or vegetable dish at a restaurant, remember that it could be fried in generous volumes of trans fat.