Processed foods often show a particular ingredient in the ingredients label with a prefix of “partially hydrogenated”. Over the past several years, this previously overlooked ingredient, now commonly known to be part of a group called “trans fats”, has gotten so much bad publicity that it’s something most health conscious people avoid.
But are trans fats that bad, or is this just some overblown anti trans fat trend? Well, trans fats really ARE bad for you. Let’s talk about why this statement is true.
Trans fats are “man made” – for the most part
Trans fats are largely a man made creation (there are trace trans fats in some meats), and they have a much different structure than the fats from which they were created. They were originally created by the processed food industry as a way to prolong the shelf life of foods and to enhance their flavor. Related: Cinnamon for Blood Sugar Control
Their name says it all about how they are created. Hydrogen is added to the liquid fat, making it a “partially hydrogenated” molecule. This extra molecule makes it more stable for a longer life as well as changing the consistency from a liquid to a solid fat.
If you’re eating out and enjoying a deep fried dish (one of my biggest weaknesses), chances are you are eating a type of hydrogenated vegetable oil. This is because this fat can be used over and over in the fryers used to deep fry foods. It is also inexpensive and lends a desirable taste to the food.
Trans fats increase blood levels of the most damaging type of cholesterol
The reason such a big deal has been made about trans fats is because they were discovered to have a large role in elevating the most dangerous type of cholesterol. Although hydrogenated oils broadly entered the food market in the early 1970’s, their destructive health effects were not fully studied or understood until almost two decades later.
Just as the process of hydrogenation makes the liquid fat itself solid, trans fats make the blood thicker and “stickier”. This means the blood has a harder time passing through the arteries, veins and other passages through which is must flow in order to nourish the body. Having blood with a lot of this damaging type of cholesterol raises your risk for heart disease, stroke and other health complications that can occur from encumbered blood flow.
Trans fats may make processed food even more addictive
Since they do tend to enhance the flavor of foods, some nutrition experts think they may be slightly addictive, adding to the difficulty in giving up certain “junk” or processed foods. To begin with, these types of foods have little nutritional value. The fact that they are also hard to stop eating means a lot of empty calorie consumption which increases odds of obesity and a myriad of related health issues.
Like a drug addict, many of us struggle with those first few days of a clean diet just as a drug addict would withdrawing from drugs. While trans fats are not entirely to blame for this withdrawal effect, they certainly don’t make it any easier due to their enhancement of texture as well as flavor. When we eat these rich foods over and over, it creates a sort of psychological addiction that also may spill over into an actual physiological addiction eventually.
Other ingredients that are commonly found in junk foods like MSG, high levels of sodium and processed sugar also add to the addictive nature of junk food. Not only that, but trans fats are highly inflammatory, so they can really create havoc for your skin, digestive health, not to mention add to risk for a variety of diseases and health conditions. Related: How to Utilize MSM for Brighter, Softer Skin
The bottom line on partially hydrogenated oils, aka “trans fats”?
Avoid them as much as you possibly can in your every day diet. Follow the rule of consuming minimal processed and prepackaged foods and you’ve already done a great service to your overall health and well being. And when you cave in and indulge in tempting treats containing them, just get right back on the wagon of healthy eating. We're all human:)