The Shocking History of Trans Fats: From Lab to Lethal Ingredient

Amcec Health
Apr 11 2023
2 Min. Read
Reviewed by

Desmond Croker RN, Dip. OHS, BSN, MSN, CCDE

June 13 2023

Self Care

Food manufacturers have industrialized food production, creating ingredients that wouldn't naturally exist, primarily in their quest to cut costs and boost profit margins.

A prime example of this is damaged fats, altered by the manufacturing process, which involves condensing the fats and applying heat to hydrogenate them, forming trans fats.

Canada, for instance, has taken action to fully ban trans fats from the food supply. Any food manufactured with partially hydrogenated oils will no longer be eligible for sale, though a two-year grace period has been granted to clear these items from store shelves. 

What is trans fat?

Trans is a term in chemistry that describes the orientation of chemical bonds around a double bond. If we think of typical cooking oils like olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, and grapeseed oil, it's interesting to consider which ones are naturally oily. Olives, for example, are like nature's fat bomb. Simply squeeze an olive, and you get oil. This exemplifies a natural and healthy oil that doesn't need to be overly processed.

However, the problem arises when certain products are over-processed to manufacture oil. In their bid to cut costs, manufacturers have inadvertently created harmful foods by altering and damaging the fats during processing.

Why should you avoid damaged fats? 

Trans fats are harmful to the body as they can worsen memory, weaken arteries, and alter the structure of our cells. They are pro-oxidant, causing oxidative stress in the body. You may have heard of antioxidants such as dark berries and green tea which protect the body from oxidative stress linked to illnesses like cancer. Trans fats have the opposite effect.

Furthermore, trans fats inhibit the formation of prostacyclin, a crucial component for healthy blood flow. Therefore, the more trans fats you consume, the less prostacyclin you produce, leading to weaker blood flow and potential heart disease and arterial complications. Trans fats also change the chemical structure of bad cholesterol, creating the perfect plaque for your arteries.

Recent findings suggest a connection between heart disease and brain health risk factors. Thus, consumption of these damaged fats could jeopardize not only your heart but also the functionality and health of your brain.

Which foods contain trans fat?

Here's a list of some of the oils and foods that contain these harmful fats: hydrogenated oil, partially hydrogenated oil, refined palm oil, fake whipped cream, some margarines, store-bought pastries, chicken nuggets, fried foods from restaurants, most chips and crackers, and many salad dressings and mayonnaise brands. Be cautious even with products that label themselves as containing olive oil; they might be using cheap, damaged oil.

In conclusion, carefully examine the food labels and ingredients list in your kitchen and consider switching to healthier, less harmful options.

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