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Trans Fatty Acids: Enemies Of The Plate

Heart Health > > Trans Fatty Acids: Enemies Of The Plate

A lot of recent media attention has been focused on the danger of too much trans fatty acids in the diets of Americans. Products containing trans fatty acids line the aisles of supermarkets, convenience stores, and cafeterias nationwide. Trans fatty acids are found in many of today's processed foods. Recent media reports have pointed the finger at large food companies accusing them of hiding the dangers of trans fatty acids much like tobacco companies hiding the dangers of smoking. So what are trans fatty acids, and why are they so bad for your heart health?

Trans fatty acids, also referred to as trans fats, are solid fats that are produced artificially by the introduction of hydrogen into vegetable oils. This process, called partial hydrogenation, is a widespread practice in today's food manufacturing environment. Food companies use partial hydrogenation to solidify liquid fats at room temperature. Trans fats are produced in large batches at the food processing level and used in a staggering array of processed foods on the market today.

Hydrogenation of vegetable oils in processed food products is done to increase shelf life of the food product and stabilize the flavor of the food product. Hydrogenated vegetable oils will not go rancid like ordinary oils because of the artificial stabilization introduced through the hydrogenation process. As a result, food products containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils can remain on supermarket shelves longer. Foods with high levels of trans fatty acids often taste moist and very flavorful because of the flavor stability made possible by this artificial process.

So why are trans fatty acids so bad for you? Trans fatty acids are the worst kind of fat to ingest, far worse than even saturated fat. Trans fatty acids accumulate in the arteries of your heart and harden, eventually causing a blockage which could result in a severe heart attack. Trans fatty acids raise the level of bad cholesterol and lower the level of good cholesterol in your body, which can lead to heart disease and can ultimately be fatal. It is important to be aware of the amount of trans fatty acids in today's processed foods and limit your intake of foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in your diet.

What can you do to limit the amount of trans fatty acids when eating? Start reading your food labels! In particular, look for partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and try to minimize your intake of the product. Cookies, snack cakes, and potato chips are loaded with trans fatty acids, and common sense would dictate that most snack foods are culprits. As with all processed food, moderation is the key. Look for foods that use vegetable oils that have not been hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated to limit your exposure to trans fatty acids. French fries are a significant source of trans fatty acids, as they are almost always produced with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Heart Health > > Trans Fatty Acids: Enemies Of The Plate