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Trans fats are stealth killers lurking in our food, causing the early death and debility of many thousands of people a year. They are mainly found in (partially) hydrogenated vegetable oil, common ingredients in thousands of food products.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, at least 30,000 people, and probably more like 100,000 people a year in the USA die prematurely from coronary heart disease as a result of eating trans fats.
And that’s without looking at the role of trans fats in causing Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, omega-3 essential fatty acid deficiency and other disabling and life-threatening conditions.
The good news is that action by the food industry and retailers has greatly reduced the volume of trans fat in our diets. Hydrogenated vegetable oil is now a rarity in packaged foods – in fact anywhere where the presence of HVO has to be declared.
However the problem is not yet entirely solved:
- Some of the ‘discount supermarkets’ import cheap products which continue to include HVO as a routine ingredient.
- Any food which is unpackaged does not have to carry an ingredients list – so HVO can continue to be present, and the consumer is none the wiser. Unscrupulous or ignorant suppliers of unpackaged can therefore continue to use HVO and poison us with trans fats, with no repercussions.
- This means that any of the following could contain dangerous amounts of trans and you are none the wiser – unless the company / supplier has a specific stated policy to exclude them: take-aways; pub and restaurant meals; school dinners; hospital food; bakery food, including in-store supermarket bakeries; canteen food; food supplied by caterers at events, public or private.
What Are Trans Fats?
Trans fats are unsaturated oils or fats whose 3-d molecular structure has been alterered, usually by prolonged exposure to high temperature. This happens mainly during hydrogenation: the industrial process that hardens liquid vegetable oils by making them more saturated. Unsaturated oils normally occur in nature in the cis configuration, but during hydrogenation the oils can ‘flip’ into the damaging (mostly) trans configuration – hence the name ‘trans fat’.
Small amounts of natural trans fat also occur in meat and butter, but (contrary to food industry claims) there is no evidence that these are harmful like the synthetic trans fats made from vegetable oil, in the quantities in which they occur. Indeed the naturally-occurring Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA) and vaccenic acid, which occur in the trans configuration, are actually beneficial to health.
Technical Explanation of Trans Fats
Trans fats are fats – triglycerides of fatty acids – which contain trans fatty acids. These are unsaturated fatty acids that contain at least one double bond in the trans configuration, as opposed to the cis configuration ordinarily found in nature.
Some trans fatty acids are also found in the meat and milk of ruminant animals. However there is little evidence that these naturally-occurring trans fatty acids are harmful in their native state, as are the synthetic trans fatty acids which this campaign is concerned with.
The main source of these synthetic trans fatty acids is hydrogenation – an industrial process in which oil is heated to a high temperature (typically 260-270ºC) under pressure and in the presence of a metal catalyst such as nickel, Rayner’s nickel (a nickel / aluminium alloy) platinum, palladium or cobalt, then hydrogen is introduced. The catalyst is normally present in the form of a fine powder and one health concern is that a small quantity of it must remain in the oil. The hydrogen is absorbed into the fat molecules, changing its molecular structure and its chemical composition as it converts the unsaturated oil to a more saturated form.
This transforms the oil, naturally liquid at room temperature, into a hard or semi-hard grey-white fatty substance. This “[partially] hydrogenated vegetable oil” is virtually flavourless and has excellent keeping properties, making it an ideal feedstock for the food industry. In particular, unstable components such as the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), prone to oxidation and rancidity, are preferentially hydrogenated by the process into more saturated and stable forms.
However hydrogenation, as well as making fats more saturated, also causes geometric isomerisation in unsaturated vegetable oils such as soy, corn or canola / rapeseed oils – that is, the fat molecules to change from one shape to another, such as from the cis to the trans configuration. This is partly the result of high temperature, but also the result of direct molecular excitation during hydrogenation, for example when ALA is hydrogenated to linoleic acid, or when linoleic acid is hydrogenated to oleic / elaidic acid.
Note that trans isomerisation can also occur in the absence of hydrogenation during the high temperature processing of oils, while refining, degumming and deodorising. ALA is especially prone to this trans isomerisation, and this is of particular concern as ALA is an essential fatty acid which plays a key role in human biology: in cell membranes, for example, in prostaglandins and in resolvins.
Why Trans Fats?
Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils – the main dietary source of trans fats – are very useful to the food industry. They are cheap; they have neutral flavour; they melt in the mouth, like butter; and they have very long shelf lives, which they confer to the products that contain them. Unlike other unsaturated oils and fats which go rancid over time, hydrogenated fats are highly resistant to oxidation and rancidity.
Trans fats are therefore found in thousands of everyday food products around the world – though thankfully less so in the UK where the food industry has responded to public pressure. Watch out with margarine, cakes, pies, biscuits, some vegetable oils, cheap chocolate, other confectionery and ice cream, and ready-made meals.
They also occur widely in fast food, as the industry – including local fast food outlets – often use hydrogenated oil for frying, as well as in shortening. Bakeries also make great use of hydrogenated oil as shortening for pastries and fillings. They were also found in shop bought items, such as McVities products but have since been removed as an ingredient.
McDonalds has also been known to have used trans fats in their cooking oil. However, they did announce an initiative to reduce the amount to 2% in 2007. According to a McDonalds spokesman, the main reason for the time lag of not doing this before 2007 was the availability of the low-linolenic, high oleic varieties of rapeseed suitable for deep frying without hydrogenation.
As for the fact that trans fats are seriously toxic, causing premature death and misery on a massive scale, much of the wordwide food industry just doesn’t care. Only one other industry that treats its customers with the same callous disregard, knowingly selling them products that will lead to unnecessary illness and premature death – the tobacco industry.
Where are Trans Fats Found?
Trans fats are present in a wide range of foods: according to one estimate, 40 percent of products in the typical US supermarket contain trans fat, and the UK is not far behind.
This is because the hydrogenated vegetable fats which provide most dietary trans fat are a mainstay of the food industry – a cheap bulking agent perfect for padding out expensive processed products, with a long shelf life and a luxurious ‘mouth feel’.
They are to be found, for example, in margarine, vegetable shortening, ice-cream, puddings & pudding mixes, ready-made pies, cakes & cake mixes, biscuits, pizza, potato chips, fritters, doughnuts, gravy & sauce mixes, artificial creamers, confectionery and other processed foods, including many foods marketed at children, including some sugary breakfast cereals.
They are also commonly found in restaurant food, especially – but not only – in fast food. You can also make your own trans fat (in small amounts) by repeatedly re-heating cooking oil.
Some trans fats occur naturally in ruminants’ stomachs and are thus found in meat and dairy produce. However the quantities are small, and in any event these natural trans fats do not appear to be harmful to human health – as are the man-made trans fats found in hydrogenated vegetable oils.
So when you’re out shopping, always inspect the list of ingredients before you buy any product, looking in particular for :
- hydrogenated vegetable oil
- partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
- vegetable shortening
If any of these are listed, leave the product on the shelf. According to the The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website,
“Consumers can know if a food contains trans fat by looking at the ingredient list on the food label. If the ingredient list includes the words “shortening,” “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “hydrogenated vegetable oil,” the food contains trans fat. Because ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance, smaller amounts are present when the ingredient is close to the end of the list.”
Cakes and biscuits
Trans fats are ubiquitous in ready-made cakes, sweet biscuits and cake / cookie mixes, indeed a substantial majority of products contain them, including those branded as Mr Kipling, Lyons, Cadbury, Fox’s, McVities, Border Biscuits, Wagon Wheels …
Many confectionery products contain trans fats. Hydrogenated vegetable oils are found, for example, in many ‘bars’, including Mars, Twix, Milky Way, Tracker, Snickers, Picnic, Double Decker, Time Out and Fuse. They are also added to chocolate, in place of far more expensive (and healthy) cocoa butter. Common offenders include ‘Belgian’ milk chocolates (various makes). They also occur in ‘cream’ and ‘praline’ fillings for chocolates. And in Rolos and Peanut M&Ms.
Fast food & restaurants
Trans fats are also present in many prepared foods bought in fast food outlets. For example, you can expect to find trans fat in frying oil, whether in your favourite burger bar, or your local fish & chip shop. Trans fat may also be present in ice cream, shakes, pies, crackers and other fast food products.
A surveys of high end restaurants in Canada also found trans fats to be widely present in batters, pastries and other dishes. The same is probably the case in the UK. To be safe, Ask your waiter / waitress whether or not the restaurant uses hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in its cooking.
Canola / rapeseed oil
One little-known source of trans fat is canola / rapeseed oil. The trans fat occurs as a result of processing, which takes place at high temperature. The raw seed begins with a high level of beneficial omega-3 oils, however these tend to oxidise during processing producing off, rancid odours. During deodorisation, some of the omega-3 fatty acids are converted to trans.
The proportion converted to trans is highly variable – in general, UK oils have low levels of trans, however Researchers at the University of Florida at Gainesville, found that liquid canola / rapeseed oils sold in the USA contained as much as 4.6 percent trans fat. Currently this trans fat content is not usually listed on labels and consumers have no way of knowing it is present.
Thanks to generous subsidies to EU growers, this is now one of the cheapest and most widespread vegetable oils. In general, if an oil is made from anything other than canola / rapeseed, this will be stated on the label. If an oil is simply described as “vegetable oil” – it is likely to be made from canola / rapeseed. If you want to be certain of the trans content of your brand of vegetable oil, you will have to write to the manufacturer and ask.
Canola is also a popular choice for hydrogenation – further raising the trans fat levels:
“… canola oil hydrogenates beautifully, better than corn oil or soybean oil, because modern hydrogenation methods hydrogenate omega-3 fatty acids preferentially and canola oil is very high in omega-3s. Higher levels of trans mean longer shelf life for processed foods, a crisper texture in cookies and crackers – and more dangers of chronic disease for the consumer.”
Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD, in The Great Con-ola.
Looking at product labels, it appears that many products aimed at vegetarians contain considerable amounts of Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (HVO) and therefore trans fats. This is because hydrogenated oils are often used to replace the saturated animal fats found in non-vegetarian products to give a good ‘mouth feel’ and for ease of cooking.
Trans fat in your frying pan
If you fry a lot of your food, you may also be making your own trans fat: ordinary vegetable oil converts to trans fat at high temperature. However the rate of conversion is low in a domestic context. As Robert M. Reeves, president of the Institute of Shortening & Edible Oils wrote to the Washington Post (August 30, 2003; Page A27):
“High heat can cause the formation of minuscule amounts of trans fatty acids over extended lengths of time. But temperatures for traditional frying (300 to 350 degrees F) and relatively short cooking times (5 to 10 minutes) would have a negligible effect on the formation of trans fat in cooking oil. For example, a recent study conducted to determine the levels of trans fat isomers formed by heat found that in canola [rapeseed] oil heated to 500 degrees F for 30 minutes, trans fat levels were increased by only 1 percent. Traditional frying at lower temperatures for shorter lengths of time would produce significantly fewer trans fats.”
However if you re-use the same oil many times over, for example in a deep fryer, the trans fat content will rise over time – and particularly if you are using canola / rapeseed oil, high in omega-3 fatty acids. You should therefore remember to change your frying oil often.
Naturally Occurring Trans Fats
Some trans fatty acids occur naturally in the digestive system of ruminant animals such as cows, sheep and goats. Some trans fatty acids are therefore present in meat, milk and other dairy produce. These are mostly C18 monounsaturated trans fatty acids, principally (almost half) vaccenic acid.
According to the The US Department of Agriculture, these trans fats make up 15 to 20 percent of the total trans fat intake in our diet. Others believe that these natural trans fats occur at much lower levels. According to Fran McCullough, author of The Good Fat Cookbook, these natural trans fats occur at “minute” levels, and our total intake of trans fats has increased by 25 times over the introduction of hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Most importantly, however, the naturally occurring trans fats have not, as they occur in animal fats, been shown to share the harmful properties of the synthetic trans fat resulting from hydrogenation. This does not mean that all the trans fatty acids are in themselves harmless, but that any harmful effect is limited and balanced by the beneficial effects of, for example, trans isomers of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which are health-promoting with specific roles to play in our bodies. Also vaccenic acid, the main ‘natural’ trans fatty acid, can be metabolised by humans to CLA.
Alternatives to trans fats
There are many alternatives to trans fats. Mostly, their use will cause the food industry some small additional expense or loss of convenience. Our mission is to convince them – and their political masters (or is that servants?) – that human life and health is more important than the size of food industry profits.
Note that all fats of ruminant origin – butter, cheese, beef fat, mutton fat etc – contain natural trans fats arising from bacterial fermentation in the gut, usually in the region of 2-6% of total fat. However these naturally occurring trans fats have a different isomeric profile to those of industrial origin, and the scientific consensus is that these natural trans fats, in the quantities and proportions in which they naturally occur, do not endanger health.
If you are eating margarine on your bread and toast, or using it in cooking and baking, there is one excellent and readily available alternative, healthy, nutritious and delicious: butter.
Butter has long been prized as a high quality food. Health scares about saturated fats of animal origin have frightened a great many people off butter in recent decades – but quite wrongly so. All those people who have switched to margarines (mostly based on hydrogenated vegetable oils) have actually been consuming a far less healthy alternative – and one that tastes far less good as well.
Of course, it makes sense to limit how much butter you eat if you need to cut back on the calories, as butter is a rich source of energy. But given that we all have to eat some fat – indeed fat is an essential part of our diets – butter is a good choice.
Butter also contains small amounts of lauric acid, a uniquely health-promoting fat that is also found in coconut oil and mother’s milk. It is also a good natural of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) – a natural polyunsaturated trans fat with anti-cancer properties. Also beneficial is vaccenic acid – a naturally occuring trans-mono unsaturate.
Most beneficial is butter (as with other dairy produce) from cows that graze on real pastures of mixed grass and herbs. This enhances the nutritional value of the butter, and takes the pressure off the Amazon rainforest which is currently being burnt away to grow soyabeans – most of which are used for high protein animal feed. So choose UK organic butter, or Anchor.
We have also noted the growing use of ‘butter fat’ as an ingredient of processed foods. This is mostly derived from ‘surplus’ EU butter, by removing the water, protein etc, then sold cheaply (compared to butter, anyway) as a bulk ingredient to the food industry. As a semi-hard fat, it substitutes directly for hydrogenated oil. Without the water and protein it also has good keeping properties – good enough that, for example, Tesco is happy to use it in its own-brand dark chocolate. Nestlé also use butterfat in Kit-Kat bars, presumably for the cream filling. Its fatty acid composition is roughly half saturates, and half monounsaturates.
Animal fats have been eaten by humans, and our ancestors, since the dawn of time. So our bodies have had plenty of time to get used to them. They are a highly efficient way of taking in dietary energy, and provided that their energy is burnt off through exercise & maintaining body temperature, they cause few problems.
Also, contrary to popular mythology (encouraged by the medical establishment and regulators), animal fats are not all saturated. Lard, for example, is composed of roughly equal amounts of mono-unsaturated and saturated fatty acids, and is very low in myristic acid, the main saturated fatty acid associated with cardiovascular disease. The more liquid poultry fats have even less saturated fat.
The harder animal fats – such as beef fat and venison fat – have a high proportion of longer chain saturates such as stearic acid, which is cholesterol neutral, and only traces of myristic acid. As for palmitic acid – a saturated fat which raises cholesterol, found in all animal fats – our body readily converts surplus carbohydrate in our diets into palmitic acid for energy storage. Cutting our dietary intake of palmitic acid will, therefore, do little to lower levels of palmitic acid in our bodies so long as we eat a carbohydrate-rich diet.
Animal fats also contain cholesterol – infamous as a cause of heart disease. However, dietary cholesterol only correlates weakly with blood serum cholesterol – which in turn does not directly relate to cholesterol in tissues, or cholesterol laid down in a plaque on the inner surface of arteries – which is what is really dangerous to health. The creation of arterial cholesterol plaque is also stimulated by oxidisation, often caused by free radicals – and saturated fats provide some protection against free radicals.
Natural animal fats also contain other factors beneficial to health, such as tocopherols, natural anti-oxidants better known as Vitamin E, as well as other fat-soluble vitamins and mineral nutrients.
So if your health problem is high cholesterol, there is a lot more to putting that right than giving up on animal fats. Recent scientific studies indicate that it is often carbohydrate, and especially refined carbohydrate, which is most beneficially removed from our diets, rather than fat generally and saturated fat in particular . For most of us (barring vegetarians) animal fats are a considerably superior alternative to hydrogenated vegetable fats.
Another advantage of animal fats is that they tend to be chemically stable (unlike the polyunsaturated vegetable oils). They can therefore be used for frying and cooking without significant deterioration.
In addition, far less of these saturated fats are absorbed into food while cooking – half as much, according to studies by the US Food and Drug Administration. This means that food that is deep fried in animal fat, such as fish and chips, contains less fat – as well as better fat – than is the case if is cooked in standard frying oils of [partially] hydrogenated vegetable origin.
Coconut and palm oils
Coconut and palm oils are both saturated vegetable fats, derived from the fruit of tropical trees. Because they are saturated fats, they have widely – and wrongly – been supposed to be unhealthy. The myth that they are bad for you was initiated in 1986 by the US soybean industry, in a classic piece of black propaganda which was almost entirely effective. In essence, the entire story was based on the fact that a single cow did not thrive while eating a diet of hydrogenated coconut oil. In the process of hydrogenation, all the essential fatty acids, both n-3 and n-6, were of course wiped out, while also creating trans fats!
Congressional hearings were held in 1988, at which the Surgeon General C Everett Koop dismissed the anti-tropical oil arguments as ill-founded and absurd. Yet the US soy industry won the day, and palm and coconut oils, until then widely used across the US food industry, were suddenly dropped and replaced with hydrogenated vegetable oils made from locally-grown soy, corn, sunflower and rapeseed.
In a statemtn to WHO by Nevin S. Scrimshaw, Ph.D., M.D., M.P.H., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, President, International Nutrition Foundation, Senior Advisor, Food and Nutrition Program, United Nations University. Dr Scrimshaw argues that the saturated fats in palm oil behave like unsaturated vegetable fats in terms of their health qualities.
Also see the submission to WHO by the Malaysian Palm Oil Promotion Council, which argues that palm oil has been unfairly stigmatised, in that the saturated fatty acid palmitic acid, found in palm oil, behaves similarly to or better than unsaturated vegetable oils in terms of cholesterol levels, and quoting numerous studies in support of this view.
Under present conditions, however, we would discourage a mass switch to palm oil: tropical forests of vital importance to the world’s climate and biodiversity are being ravaged by the palm oil industry across southeast Asia and South America.
However coconut oil does not presently suffer from this problem: coconut groves in many parts of the world have been abandoned due to the low price of coconut, and farmers in producing countries such as the Solomon Islands left in poverty. Coconut oil is even being used as biodiesel in producer countries – even while it is sold in the UK by health food and dietary supplement companies at some £15 for 400ml.
Coconut oil is not merely not bad for you, it is one of the healthiest fats in existence. Here’s a quick rundown on the health-promoting qualities of coconut oil. It
- is active against pathogenic viruses, bacteria and fungi
- is a good source of the medium chain saturated fatty acid lauric acid, a protective substance found in mother’s milk (and in butter, in lesser amounts), which boosts the immune system
- contains other medium chain fatty acids; in general, these are not easily converted to body fat, but preferentially burnt for energy
- protects against heart disease and cancer
- has the lowest energy content of any culinary oil – and so it is less fattening
- guards against premature aging and wrinkles
- is loaded with antioxidants
- has anti-inflammatory qualities.
It has been reported that Sri Lanka, where coconut oil is traditionally used for cooking, has the world’s lowest rate of heart disease. This may once have been the case however since the 1970s coconut oil consumption in Sri Lanka has declined and heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular disease have soared to become the country’s number one killer.
More reliable indications come from studies carried out in the 1960’s in the South Pacific islands of Pukapuka and Tokelau, near New Zealand. At the time the islanders ate a huge amount of coconut, with coconut fat accounting for 50-60 percent of dietary energy, and enjoyed excellent health. These studies are quoted in The Coconut Diet by Cherie & John Calbom.
Fully hydrogenated oil
Fully hydrogenated vegetable oil is oil that has been converted into a fully saturated form. In most cases the main (or only) fatty acid present in the fat is stearic acid, which is hard at room temperature. It does cannot contain trans fat – only unsaturated fat can be ‘trans’. It therefore relatively harmless. However, use of the description “hydrogenated vegetable oil” does not normally indicate that the oil in question has, in fact, been fully hydrogenated. Fully hydrogenated oil is like candle wax in its texture and hardness – indeed it is used for this purpose. But this is not, in general, what the food industry is after.
However it offers a solution for the food industry: to blend fully hydrogenated vegetable oil with completely unhydrogenated vegetable oil, to give the mechanical / fluid properties required. As Robert M. Reeves, president of the Institute of Shortening & Edible Oils wrote to the Washington Post (August 30, 2003; Page A27):
“One trans fat alternative involves blending fully hydrogenated oil with unhydrogenated oil, neither of which contains trans fats, resulting in a final product that contains no trans fats but that may be identified as ‘partially hydrogenated’ in the ingredient statement.”
Traditional liquid vegetable oils
One obvious alternative to the use of hydrogenated vegetable oil is liquid vegetable oil from traditional sources, for example, canola / rapeseed, corn or soy. Not to mention olive oil, which in Italy, Spain and other producer countries is ‘drizzled’ over bread instead of butter (I do this too and it’s great), as well as being used on salads, in frying, etc.
However some liquid vegetable oils, in particular soya, canola and rapeseed oils, themselves contain up to around 5 percent trans fat as a result of trans isomerisation of alpha linolenic acid (ALA) during prolonged high temperature refining, deodorising and other processing.
While the use of liquid oils is a good idea in a domestic culinary context, the food industry often needs long shelf lives and thus the chemical stability that hydrogenation confers to unsaturated vegetable oils. Hydrogenation is normally applied mainly in order to stablise certain fatty acids within vegetable oils (mainly ALA) which are prone to rancidity.
But in the case of frozen food, this should not be a significant factor, since the food is conserved by low temperature. There is little obvious reason for using hydrogenated oil rather than liquid oil in frozen food products unless very long storage times are anticipated.
Liquid oils from advanced oilseeds
If the oil from traditional oilseeds does not have the qualities the food industry needs, why not change the plants and the seeds they produce, instead of changing the oil? All the more so when this is possible by selective breeding, without resorting to genetic modification?
In the case of soy oil, widely used in the USA, the principal unstable ‘fatty acid’ is alpha linolenic acid (ALA). This has prompted soy breeders to produce seed with a very low linolenic acid content. Leading the field is the State University of Iowa, which has produced soy with 1 percent linolenic acid content, as compared to 7 percent in normal soy. At this low level, there is no longer any need for hydrogenation.
This work has been carried out by two College of Agriculture professors, Walter Fehr and Earl Hammond, in a project that has been in progress since the 1960s using conventional plant breeding techniques, so no GM. For more details see http://www.notrans.iastate.edu/.
Good news also comes from Dow Agrosciences, which has produced a novel line of Canola (again, not GM) named “Nexera”. This has been developed to produce an oil, named “Natreon”, which:
- satisfies the need of the food industry for stability and shelf life, without the need for hydrogenation;
- contains a fatty acid profile which is beneficial to human health.
The company says of this product:
“Like traditional canola oil, Natreon contains about 7 percent saturated fat, the lowest of any vegetable oil. The unsaturated fat profile of Natreon also is desirable with more than 70 percent monounsaturated fat and a higher omega-3 polyunsaturated fat content than most of the partially hydrogenated oils it can replace. In addition to health benefits, monounsaturated fat gives Natreon canola oil natural stability, making it ideal for high-heat applications, such as frying, and for products that require extended shelf-life, such as baked goods and snack foods. Natreon canola oil has a neutral flavor and preserves the good, clean taste of foods. It also gives fried foods a light, crisp texture, which still is number one with many consumers.”
According to the American Soybean Association,
“Instead of partially hydrogenating soy oil, food companies may be able to meet some of their specific needs by using a process called interesterification that rearranges the oil’s fat molecules without adding hydrogen molecules, producing a product with few trans fatty acids. These alternative ways to process soy oil may slightly increase the cost of the finished product, but soy oil is relatively inexpensive and produces a healthy product that’s low in saturated fat.”
American Soybean Association, ASA Responds to FDA Call for Trans Fat Labeling. July 9 2003.
Danish enzyme company Novozymes A/S (a biotech-based world leader in enzymes and microorganisms for industrial use) has recently launched Lipozyme TL IM, an enzyme to make trans fatty acid-free bakery shortenings and margarine via enzymatic esterification and interesterification. By using the enzyme, oil processors can control the conversion and no trans fatty acids are produced. According to Novozymes “Lipozyme TL IM uses cost-effective technology that will match the current solids profiles. This simple and easy process yields a more natural fat and it’s chemical-free.” See novozymes.com
In January 2007 the following paper was published: Stearic acid-rich interesterified fat and trans-rich fat raise the LDL/HDL ratio and plasma glucose relative to palm olein in humans by Kalyana Sundram, Tilakavati Karupaiah, Kc Hayes, Nutrition & Metabolism 2007, 4:3 (15 January 2007). This article raises interesting questions about the health impacts of stearic acid-rich randomly interesterified vegetable oil versus oleic-rich palm oil. The palm oil comes out best … but then the study was funded by the palm oil industry. The study does not indicate where the difference arises, eg from the random arrangement of fatty acids in the triacyl glyceride, from the balance of monounsaturated to polyunsaturated fatty acids, or from the effects of palmitic versus stearic acid. We need answers to these questions before jumping to conclusions.
Another alternative is to use a non-fat: something which feels like a fat in the mouth, or which replicates the mechanical properties of fat – and can thus replace some or all of the fat content of a food product – but which is not really a fat at all.
One such example is Z-Trim, made by FiberGel Technologies, part of US-based Circle Group Holdings, Inc. This is a “zero-calorie” gel made from corn bran fibre and a few additives. The company claims that Z-Trim can replace fat in processed foods volume for volume, up to 50 percent of the original fat quantity, without any difference in taste or mouth feel. Obviously Z-Trim cannot replace all the hydrogenated fat in a product, but it looks to us as if it has a worthwhile contribution to make in a trans fat reduction programme, while also reducing total fat and thus the calorific content of products it is part of.
Trans Fats Cause Nutritional Deficiencies
What are omega-3 and omega-6?
Most people know that if you want to stay healthy, your diet has to include sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals, but few people know that two special fats are also essential for human health. They are the polyunsaturated fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6. Our bodies need them to make both cell membranes and signalling molecules such as hormones, but unlike other forms of fat they can’t be manufactured inside the body and must come from our diet. Because every cell in our body needs them, most of the bad effects of eating trans fats stem from the ways they disrupt our bodies’ use of these essential fatty acids (EFAs).
Modern Western diets are deficient in omega-3
While omega-6 (linoleic acid) is plentiful in the modern Western diet because it is found in most vegetable oils, omega-3 has become very scarce in the food we eat. Small amounts are found in leafy green vegetables, walnuts, flaxseeds and wheat germ, but this is short-chain omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and not the long-chain forms our brains and nerve cells require for healthy functioning (docosahexaenoic acid or DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA).
The best source of these long-chain omega-3s is cold-water oily fish, such as herring and mackerel, but we are eating much less of this than in the past. It used to be assumed that most people’s bodies could build the long-chain forms given an adequate intake of short-chain omega-3, but we now know that without sufficient quantities of other vitamins and minerals (also deficient in many people’s diets) this conversion cannot take place. Other factors, such as old age or the stress so common in modern life, can also hinder this process.
Trans fats make this deficiency worse
On top of all this, consumption of trans fats throws a further spanner into the works as our bodies attempt to build long-chain omega-3. We know that trans fats hinder the work of the delta-6 desaturase enzyme, which together with elongation enzymes converts short-chain omega-3s into long-chain omega-3s.
The other ways in which they interfere with the metabolism of omega-3 are not as well understood. However, our cells need both short- and long-chain omega-3s to build their membranes and some of the molecules which they use to signal each other. The body has no way of distinguishing between trans and natural forms of omega-3, so if you eat trans fats, you will end up with twisted molecules in your cell walls and hormones. So they are not likely to work as well as they should, just as a shed built from warped timber will not keep out the rain as effectively as one built with straight boards.
Omega-3 deficiency linked to many diseases
So it may well be the case that even if you eat enough omega-3 (dining on oily fish twice a week, say), but also consume trans fats, you will be deficient in properly-formed long-chain omega-3. The health consequences of this can be seen in almost every chronic disease that afflicts modern society.
Low levels of EPA and DHA are a major factor in heart disease and strokes, but they also worsen inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and allergies. They are also known to promote insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes, and to accelerate the development of cancer. And as if that weren’t bad enough, we are increasingly discovering that lack of omega-3 (particularly of EPA) plays a major role in the development of mental illnesses, such as clinical depression, including post-natal depression, and hyperactivity in children.
Ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is also crucial
The foods eaten by human beings prior to agriculture (and by our pre-human ancestors), such as wild game, leafy green vegetables and fruit, contained relatively high amounts of omega-3 and low amounts of omega-6, so that our ancestors consumed equal amounts of both essential fatty acids, in other words, a ratio of 1:1. This is the ratio that our bodies have evolved to expect.
When humans started growing cereal grains, which are high in omega-6, our diet began to shift away from that fundamental ratio, yet people in many pre-modern societies enjoyed good health and freedom from degenerative diseases because they continued to eat many foods high in omega-3, such as meat from grazing animals, wild fish and wholemeal bread.
But when it was discovered that wheat could be milled by high-speed rollers in such a way that all the bran and germ could be stripped out, leaving only starch, and then that cattle and other animals could be fattened cheaply on a diet of grain, and finally that chemicals and industrial processes could be used to extract oils from seeds such as cotton and soy, human diets changed far more profoundly.
White bread lacked any essential fatty acids as well as most other nutrients (a few of these are now put back into flour but not the EFAs). Meat-and dairy products as well-became high in omega-6. The new oils were cheap but almost all were also very high in omega-6. So now the typical modern Western diet, instead of having equal amounts of the two essential fatty acids, has 20 to 25 times more omega-6 than omega-3.
While not all experts agree that we must return to the ancient ratio of 1:1 (some believe that humans can enjoy long-term good health on a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 as high as 4:1), the consensus is that we are eating far too much omega-6 compared to omega-3 and that this by itself, quite apart from trans fats, is causing serious harm to our health. However, most trans fats are made from the high-omega-6 seed oils, so if you are scrupulous about cutting out all trans fats from your diet, you will already have gone a long way towards redressing the balance, and as Dr Artemis Simopoulos has pointed out,
“a diet such as the traditional Greek diet balanced in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids and rich in vitamins C and E (fruits and vegetables) is associated with decreased rates of heart disease and cancer more so than any other diet or drug intervention.” (Simopoulos, p.427, emphasis mine)
Trans fats and health
The trans fats created during hydrogenation are uniquely bad for human health – far worse than the saturated animal fats and saturated tropical oils that many people are scared of. This is because they are unnatural fats, which do not exist in nature: unsaturated fats which mimic saturated fats.
Trans fats confuse the human body and its various metabolic pathways. As a result they end up in the wrong places, doing the wrong thing. And so they send tens of even hundreds of thousands of people worldwide to an early grave every year.
Specifically, dietary trans fats
- raise LDL (Low-Density Lipo-proteins, known as “bad” cholesterol) and lower HDL (High-Density Lipo-proteins, known as “good” cholesterol) levels.
- promote the formation of arterial plaque, leading to circulation problems, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke;
- predispose to cancer, multiple scelerosis, diverticulisis and obesity.
- decrease the response of human cells to insulin, a factor in both adult-onset (type 2) diabetes and obesity.
- when consumed by pregnant women, introduce themselves into the tissues of unborn babies and reduce their birth weight.
- when consumed by breast-feeding mothers, enter into mothers milk, reducing cream levels and the amount of essential fatty acids.
- assimilate into cell membranes to levels as high 20 percent, weakening their structure and protective function.
- weaken the immune system, increasing susceptibtibility to infections.
- inhibit the action of enzymes that destroy toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.
- block the beneficial action of the essential Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
- reduce the elasticity of blood vessels.
- promote the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and accelerate mental decline among elderly people.
- may produce severe allergic and other reactions, with reports of strong hayfever symptoms and yeast infections.
Transfats, diabetes and obesity
Diabetes and obesity are major health problems for large numbers of people in welathy countries, and increasingly in poorer countries of the world too, where their advance has taken place alongside the introduction of ‘western’ diets and eating patterns. Overconsumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates are clearly implicated in this. But could trans fats also be involved?
Evidence is growing that this is indeed the case. The likely mechanism is that the assimilation of trans fats into cell membranes impairs their function, for example reducing cellular response to hormones such as insulin.
Trans fats and allergy, atopic disorders and other adverse reactions
Trans fats in the diet are known to be responsible for predisposing people to general atopic disorders, or allergies. Personal evidence also shows that many people suffer direct allergic and other adverse reactions resulting directly from the consumption of hydrogenated oil, displaying a wide variety of symptoms.
This intolerance to HVO seems to be a widespread phenomenon – and in all probability the overwhelming majority of sufferers have no idea as to the cause of their problems.
Trans fats and atopic disorders
Several scientific studies have shown that hydrogenated oil in the diet is a factor pre-disposing to allergy or what doctors know as “atopic” disorders. We quote below from the Danish Nutrition Council report The influence of trans fatty acids on health
1.4 Trans fatty acids and allergy
The increased incidence of hay fever, atopic disorders and asthma in Europe is associated with the spread of the Western lifestyle (51). In an international study of asthma and allergies in childhood (ISSAC) from 1998, the incidence of asthma, allergic cold and asthmatic eczema in children aged 13-14 years was investigated in 155 centres around the world. A positive association was found between the intake of trans fatty acids and these diseases. Such an association was not observed for the intake of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (52, 53). The above-mentioned results do not allow any conclusion concerning recommendations for dietary levels of trans fatty acids in relation to the incidence of allergic diseases, but provide a basis for further studies.
51. von Mutius E, Weiland S K, Fritzsch C, Duhme H, Keil U. “Increasing prevalence of hay fever and atopy among children in Leipzig, East Germany”. Lancet 1998; 351: 862.
52. Weiland S K, von Mutius E, Hüsing A, Asher M I, on behalf of the ISAAC Steering Committee. “Intake of trans fatty acids and prevalence of childhood asthma and allergies in Europe”. Lancet 1999; 353: 2040-1.
53. The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) Steering Committee. “Worldwide variation in prevalence of symptoms of asthma, allergic rhinoconjunctivitis, and atopic eczema”: ISAAC. Lancet 1998; 351: 1225-32.
I have, over the last 18 months to 2 years avoided trans fats to the best of my ability and with remarkable results. My family all feel much better for dropping this poison from our diets but the main thing I’ve noticed is the following : I’ll try to keep it brief.
I’m 43 reasonably fit, not overweight and don’t drink to excess, for the last 8 years I sufferred with the most horrendous hot flushes, my doctor thought at the age of 36, I was menopausal! – I was getting 20 plus flushes a day as well as night sweats. Trust me its not nice, you feel sick, exhausted and incredibly uncomfortable. I was referred to the hospital last year for what turned out to be an unneccessary bone density scan, they told me that I wasn’t menopausal and never had been – but didn’t know what was causing the symptoms .
Today I get don’t get any symptoms and haven’t for at least 3 months now. Try telling me that was just a coincidence, I need no studies to know what was causing those symptoms, the flushes didn’t suddenly stop, they gradually decreased, nothing else has changed just the exclusion of trans fats.
I understand that you cannot “publish” my results as fact but you could make the ‘suggestion’ on your website, or simply tell my story. I have wrote to my local MP and will keep doing so, I’ve also started making complaints to companies who use this vile potion and am telling as many people as possible.
Sue Argent, UK. April 2006.
Weight increase, psoriasis, migraine
If you have symptons like I am about to describe, don’t be fobbed off by your doctor. No-one knows your body better than you do. Since the early 1980s my weight has gradually been increasing, I also suffer with migraine, psoriasis and several other recurring problems.
For years I was told I eat too much, I eat the wrong foods etc. The last straw came last year when I tried to join the police, I passed the medical with flying colours, but failed on the weight test alone. They like 105 kg or less, I was 118 kg. I had 6 months to reapply, and thought that I could shift the exceess weight. However after 6 months I returned to the police medical weighing 125 kg, as you can imagine I was horrified.
Yet again, off I went to the doctor, who gave me an intense medical, my heart, liver, etc were all perfect. However, my cholesterol had increased from 3.8 to 6 and my weight was now 132 kilos. Again I was told I was eating the wrong foods and too big a portion. I tried in vain to explain that my wife weighs all my food and is strict with what I get. I eat less than 30 grams of fat a day and 1500 calories. I work as a self employed groundsman, farm hand and grave digger so am very active as well as walking my dog for 40 minutes every morning and later in the day if I have time.
Since 2002 I have gone from a 48″ trouser to a 40″ trouser, yet my weight increased.
As the doctors were all but useless, I deciced that I was obviously eating something that did not agree with me, and after some painful migarines and testing, I came to the conclusion that my body does not like “HVO”, since cutting them out just one month ago, I’ve managed to shift almost one stone, my other problems, migraine, psoriasis etc have all improved, Not gone, but much better. The psoriasis is far less itchy & sore, and now quite faded.
I sincerely hope that I have indeed found the cause of my weight and related problems and hope that others may be able to relate to this and be of use.
Mark Rose, England, June 2006.
I don’t know if your readers would be interested in a follow up to my letter of June. Since 1977-78 (ish) I have suffered with psoriasis & migraine, both of which have gotten worse over the years. I must have tried virtually every pill & potion with no joy. Then in June after reading up on trans fats & cutting them out of my diet I am delighted to say that my psoriasis is almost gone, after around 3 months it’s amazing. As for my migraine attacks, they have gone from 1 a week to around 1 – 2 a month. Also, your readers may be interested to know my weight loss has slowed since the first month but is decreasing, without dieting. More importantly my body fat is going at a fantastic rate.
Also my wife & teenage children have all joined in, we all feel better & tighter. My daughter who suffers with hayfever has had virtually no symptoms this year. But best of all my son who suffers with ADHD and takes Ritalin has been fantastic. Since he broke up from school in July he has had no Ritalin whatsoever & we’ve had no problems to speak of.
For years we’ve had to watch his diet for e numbers which eased the problems, but cutting out trans fats has been the breakthrough we all had hoped for. I hope others can benefit from this, especially parents with children with similar conditions, maybe this is the link we’ve all been looking for with problem in children such as ADHD, AUTISM etc.
Mark Rose, England, August 2006.
This account is from a letter written to the Independent in February 2005 by Amber Barnitt:
Immobilising, throbbing pain; violent vomiting; hot sweats; cold sweats; in and out of sleep. That’s how I spent last Sunday. Again. As I recover from another debilitating migraine, which even my emergency treatment will not reach, I pick up my trusty Independent and what do I see? ‘The killer in our food’. Hurrah!
They are all at it … Horlicks … “Great new taste!” hydrogenated vegetable oil taste presumably? Seven Seas cod liver oil and multivitamin capsules (of all things) … the source of my latest torture. Products that have been consumed for years with no problem suddenly become complete no-nos for a migraine sufferer. And when the label is read to find out why you have just spent another day out of action, yes! There it is! Hydrogenated vegetable oil! There are endless basic foods, from cheese to citrus fruits that cause migraines without the food processors adding to the problem.
Although no fan of all the new laws that emanate hourly from our leaders, I propose just one more. Supermarkets should be forced to display great open vats of the ingredients in the items they sell at the end of every aisle. Huge barrels of chemical additives and gloopy hydrogenated veg oil would put anyone right off their morning digestive biscuit ( another culprit).
As the Sudan I problem has shown, no-one has a clue what is in the food we eat. And just saying ‘oh well its only the proles who eat junk food’ will not wash; everyone eats this stuff at some time. I keep hens, buy local, grow veg etc etc, but I am still poisoned on a regular basis by food processors who are only concerned with shelf life and jacking up their profits.
The only good thing about this issue is that, speaking with my farmer’s wife hat on, at least this is one ‘food scare’ where the blame can’t be passed down the line to us!
Amber Barnitt, North Yorkshire.
Bacterial vaginitis, yeast infection
This account was written for us by Nadia.
“I have suffered for years with terrible yeast infections that the doctors were never able to identify the cause. I was given almost every drug which I had terrible reactions to even loosing the little taste buds on my mouth.
I kept being told that I had BV and yeast and that to just be clean, wear cotton panties, don’t eat too much sugar, blah blah. I tried it all even limiting my carb intake to 60 per day. Watching what I eat but I kept having these flare ups. I did notice a reaction to food about 10min after consumption. I suffered and suffered it has been a complete and total nightmare. Finally I decided to go on a 100% raw diet and eliminated all man made cooked food even meat for 3 weeks. I felt great. My yeast went away.
Slowly I re-introduced foods one by one. Then I noticed my itching and yeast symptoms came back after eating a piece of bread. I started writing down the ingredients that the foods had that gave me yeast and pelvic inflammation totally weird right. They all always shared hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, the worst one was cotton seed oil – ugg..
So there you have it. My story. I hope this helps other people suffering from recurrent yeast infections and BV.
Please let me know if there are others like me out there I would love to know. It is still very hard to find foods that do not have these ingredients in them.
Nadia M, February 2005.
Hay fever symptoms
And this by Mary Walker, who suffers a wide range of debilitating symptoms including those typical of hayfever.
For two years I suffered perennial hay fever symptoms, despite not being a hay fever sufferer at all.
I lived on anti-histamine. It was the only way I could get through the day. My GP was quite satisfied for me to continue to live this way and offered no alternative solutions or allergy testing.
My symptoms were similar to those we all suffer from when about to go down with a cold or the flu. Congestion, sneezing, coughing, streaming eyes, swollen glands, headaches, aches and pains, fatigue, general malaise.
When I finally had myself privately tested I found that I was intolerant to cow’s milk and all related byproducts and also coffee (not caffeine) and chocolate, but by far the biggest offender was diagnosed as hydrogenated vegetable oil or fat. This vile product was in many of the things that I ate on a daily basis.
I eliminated all of the offenders from my diet. I now enjoy wonderful health. If I relapse in any way I notice it very markedly. The culprit always turns out to be hydrogenated fat that I have consumed thanks to poor labelling.
The antidote is to chuck the food in the bin, detox, wait four days and equilibrium is restored.
Many thanks to tfX for a great website.
Mary Walker, February 2005.
Headache, stiff back
And from Martin Usher, this account of headache, and stiff back and shoulders:
I was very interested to see your website today and wholeheartedly support your campaign to eliminate trans fats from processed foods.
I am allergic to hydrogenated vegetable oil, if I eat anything that contains it I suffer from a debilitating headache approximately 24 hours after and have an associated stiff back and shoulders. It took many months to find out, by a process of elimination, what it was that was causing the headaches but about 2 years ago I finally realised it was the hydrogenated oil.
I know for definite that hydrogenated oil is the culprit due to mistakes in my diet where, for example, a manufacturer has changed the recipe of a product that formerly didn’t have it in, I have eaten the product, had the headache and then read the label after to see the change. This has happened too many times for it not to be the hydrogenated fat that is causing this dramatic reaction.
Shopping these days is a nightmare, it seems that more and more products are having hydrogenated oil in them, it’s almost impossible to buy a sliced white loaf that I can safely eat now. On many products the ingredients panels have such tiny writing it takes ages to see if there is any hydrogenated oil in it and it doesn’t seem to matter how small the amount is I still get the headache.
What is even worse are the freshly baked products in supermarkets that have no ingredients listed at all. Enquiries made to supermarket staff as to whether a freshly baked product contains hydrogenated oil is usually met with a blank look a promise to go and find out and a return some 20 minutes later with a “we don’t know” reply.
I would like to congratulate Ginsters and Fairtrade products because they state quite clearly that the product does NOT contain hydrogenated vegetable oil. If only more manufacturers would do that.
I would be interested to know if you are aware of anyone else with the same side effects to hydrogenated oil as me because I have never come across anyone or any references on the internet. Am I unique to medical science or are there others out there suffering because of the food manufacturers desire for a quick buck regardless of the damage being caused to anyone who eats their products?
If anyone knows the antidote for when I have accidentally eaten hydrogenated oil I would love to know what it is!
Martin Usher, October 2004.
From James Catmur, who suffers acid indigestion within minutes of eating hydrogenated oil:
One interesting effect I have suffered from for years is that hydrogenated fats cause me significant indigestion within minutes of eating them. For years I suffered major bouts of indigestion, especially when in the USA. We then cut out all foods that contain hydrogenated fat and hey presto, it stopped. Now a biscuit that has hydrogenated fat can cause indigestion within about 10 minutes. In fact it is such a strong relationship that I can tell which foods have hydrogenated fat via my stomach!
The symptoms are basically acid indigestion, which is cured by taking such things as Gaviscon. I am sure they are the culprit as cutting them out of my diet (and nothing else) has stopped the indigestion, and eating any causes indigestion within minutes. As I said I bet I could tell you a food with them in by just eating it and then waiting a few minutes.
I have always wondered if there was some conspiracy between food manufactures and the sellers of anti-acid products. One sells cheap food and the other makes money as you try to cure the resulting indigestion! Of course they may be the same group of companies!
James Catmur, January 2006.
From Nicky Guindani, whose young son develops eczema after eating hydrogenated oil:
“I live in Italy, where, thank God, the school dinners are still good quality. However, there is a growing trend in buying biscuits and snacks for the kids which contain loads of these hydrogenated vegetable oils. I never buy them at home but the children were having biscuits at school during their mid-morning break and my son (age 5) began breaking out in eczema on his face and legs as a result.
I know that the eczema was caused by hydrogenated oil because the eczema attacks only happen after he has eaten foods containing it. The symptoms begin after a few hours and develop fully after a day or so. The eczema covers the area around his mouth and behind his knees and lasts for several days. It causes him quite a lot discomfort and itching.
The allergy specialist, a medical doctor in the Italian health service, diagnosed an intolerance to hydrogenated oils and commented that a ‘huge amount of children’ have a reaction to these substances. Not least because they are chemically processed but also because there is no indication as to the origins of these oils. A vegetable oil could be palm oil, peanut oil or any other oil derived from vegetation, and the allergy specialist advised me to avoid anything labelled as such as if it were ‘totally toxic’.
I have given up reading labels as just about everything contains this crap, and so have begun sending the kids to school with fruit or home-made snacks instead. This in the short term solves my problem, although I have had to provide written certification from the doctor that my son cannot have hydrogenated oils and am made to feel a little like I’m being an awkward mother by being ‘different’, not least because my daughter does not have an allergy but I will not permit her to eat them either. I am perhaps perceived by the teachers as expecting my children to receive preferential treatment.
What I cannot understand is that if all this research has proven how harmful hydrogenated oil is, why are the teachers, allergy specialists and doctors not working together to put pressure on European governments in order to ban these things for once and for all, especially in things aimed at children. The TV is full of adverts for various kids treats described by my allergy specialist as containing ‘pure poison’.
Enough. Come on Jamie Oliver and anyone else reading this – let’s do something about it. Denmark has the right idea, let’s make it a European ruling for God’s sake!”
Nicky Guindani, February 2006.
Trans fats, Alzheimer disease and cognitive decline
A study published in Archives of Neurology in February 2003 showed that the intake of both trans fats and saturated fats promoted the development of Alzheimer disease – a truly terrible form of dementia, in which people of middle age and older are progressively stripped of their memories, identities, personalities and ultimately their lives.
The study, “Dietary Fats and the Risk of Incident Alzheimer Disease” by Martha Clare Morris, ScD et al., was based on a random sample of 815 people of 65 years or more in age, who were not affected by Alzheimers at the outset. It found a series of strong statistical correlations between dietary intake of fats and the risk of developing Alzheimers. Trans fats and saturated fat increased the risk of developing Alzheimers, while polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats of vegetable origin reduced the risk.
The strongest effect was observed in the case of trans fats: the top 80 percent in trans fat consumption had, on average, four times the risk of developing Alzheimers (after adjusting for the effects of other fats), than the 20 percent with the lowest trans fat consumption (who typically ate only 1.8 grams of trans fat daily). Thus:
“We observed a strong increased risk of Alzheimer disease with consumption of trans-unsaturated fat.”
In the case of saturated fats, there was a smilar but weaker effect: the top 80 percent in terms of saturated fat intake had a 2.5 times greater chance of developing Alzheimers than the 20 percent with the lowest intake (after adjusting for the effects of other fats).
Similar but inverse correlations were found for intake of omega-6 polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fats, of vegetable origin. The 20 percent with the lowest consumption of unsaturated vegetable fats had a five times greater chance of developing Alzheimers than the 20 percent with the greatest consumption (after adjusting for the effects of other fats).
The study also found a synergistic effect whereby the damaging effect of trans fat was increased if the diet was low in polyunsaturated fat, especially where polyunsaturated fat intake was less than 10 grams daily:
“The deleterious effect of increased trans-unsaturated fat intake on the risk of developing Alzheimer disease was substantially greater among persons with low polyunsaturated fat intake, whereas the effects were minimized among persons with high polyunsaturated fat intake”
Thus a person eating a high amount of trans fat and a low amount of polyunsaturated fat was found to have a nine times greater risk of developing Alzheimers than someone eating a low amount of trans fat and a high amount of polyunsaturated fat.
The study concluded:
“High intake of unsaturated, unhydrogenated fats may be protective against Alzheimer disease, whereas intake of saturated or trans-unsaturated (hydrogenated) fats may increase risk … These data […] provide promising evidence that diets high in unsaturated, unhydrogenated fats and low in saturated and trans-unsaturated fats may protect against dementing disease.”
The Rise and Fall of Trans Fat: Is the Battle Won?
Despite the documented health risks associated with trans fats, they continue to pose a significant danger to the US population. Although the prevalence of trans fats in the food supply has declined in recent years, largely due to government regulation and industry-led initiatives, they have not been completely eliminated.
As a result, consumers must remain vigilant in monitoring their dietary intake and making informed choices when it comes to processed foods. Moving forward, ongoing collaboration between the government, private industry, and the public is essential in further reducing the use of trans fats in food products, and ultimately, minimizing the associated health risks. It is through concerted efforts and public awareness campaigns that the nation can make strides towards a healthier and more informed society, free from the dangers of trans fats.