Thursday, November 13, 2008

What is Trans Fat ?

Since past couple of years, Trans-Fat has picked up a lot of attention, and more and more people are trying to include "No-Trans-Fat" foods in their diets. But do we know What Trans Fat really is? And why is it unhealthy? A better understanding of what they are, how they react inside our body, and why should they be avoided is not only a good study on health education, but it will also help you identify trans-fat-containing foods easily, and thereby help you avoid those specific foods! I'm no expert in Nutrition, but I'd like to share what I have learned so far, as that may help you fight the evil called Trans-Fat, something that has become the primary reason for Obesity in many countries around the world! [Image courtesy of Putnam County, NY]

This article is largely based on the information I collected from the University of Maryland's Medical Center, and has been adapted to portray my thoughts on this topic. For further reading, I would recommend a great article on WebMD about understanding Trans Fat and ways to avoid it.

What is Trans-Fat?
I have to admit I never payed quite a lot of attention to understanding this myself, until I saw all the latest supermarket foods being labeled as "Contains No Trans-Fat". The U.S. FDA made it mandatory for companies to include the Trans-fat content on all food labels, and in fact, restaurants in New York city will be required to eliminate the artificial trans fats from all of their foods by July 2008. Intrigued to know what it really was, I set upon to find its composition.

"Trans fats can be natural or artificial. Small amounts of trans fat occur naturally in beef, lamb and full-fat dairy products. But when you add hydrogen to liquid vegetable oil and then add pressure, the result is a stiffer fat, called Trans Fat, also known as "hydrogenated fat"."

How Is It Different from Regular Fat?
We all know about the Good Fats & the Bad Fats. Saturated fats, like those found in butter, cheese, white processed foods, or meat, are bad for our body. They raise the cholesterol levels, clog the arteries that pump blood into our body, and make us more prone to heart diseases. However, our body also contains some good mono-saturated fats, which can help increase the amount of Good Cholesterol, or high-Density Lipids(HDL), which helps keep the system in control, and prevents untimely clogging of arteries.

Trans Fat, on the other hand, is a saturated fat that not only raises the Bad Cholesterol levels (LDL), but it is artificially hydrogenated and altered so that it also causes reduction in the level of Good Cholesterol (HDL), which helps protect our bodies against heart disease. So its like a Double Whammy - it kills the good, and raises the bad, which will undoubtedly raise the risk of having a Heart Disease or on of the millions of other problems related to High Cholesterol.

Foods to Avoid
You should avoid, or at least limit the intake of any and every food product that contains Saturated Fats - whether its Trans-fat or not! And do NOT get fooled by food labels that say "Zero Trans Fat"; It is not required by law to list any nutrients that are present in a quantity less than 0.5 gram per standard serving. So even if your bread is Zero-Trans-Fat, each slice may have 0.5 grams of fat, which means a LOT of trans-fat when you consider the entire loaf of bread!

Trans fats are generally added to packaged foods to increase their "shelf-life"; they are not good for the body, and totally unnecessary for any other value. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill earlier this year to phase out the use of trans fats in California - linked to heart disease, diabetes and obesity, trans fats in foods will no longer be allowed on restaurant menus by 2010, and all retail baked goods in 2011. However, Packaged foods are still exempt from this law! So next time, try baking your own cookies and pastries at home rather than buying them from the stores - they are still high in fats, but not trans-fats!

The Best Advice
The age-old-message to avoid high-calorie, high-fat foods is still the best advice you can give to yourself. Cook at home more often, and when you have to eat out, try to pick a place where you'll get fresh food rather than pre-packaged stuff. Its ok to indulge, but keep a tab on your portion-size, and if you are worried about feeding your kids, try this list of Healthy Kid-friendly Snacks to beat hunger and obesity, both at the same time!

Related Articles:
Foods that Help Lower Your Cholesterol
Are Nutrition Supplements Necessary or Safe?
10 Simple Habits for Healthy Eating

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