When the demand for butter exceeded the ability of farmers to supply this desirable fat … the search for a substitute started us on a road to trans fats, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Not until 20 years ago did we finally discover the dangers of trans fats.
How Did Trans Fats Enter our Food Supply?
In the 1860s butter was in great demand and there just wasn’t enough to satisfy everybody. Emperor Louis Napoleon III offered a prize for a substitute … and so, the first margarine was invented by a French chemist. It was created from clarified beef fat.
It wasn’t until 40 years later that the process of hydrogenation was developed … and the door to deadly trans fats was opened. Butter rationing during two worlds wars and the lower cost of margarine … had more and more people switching to this butter substitute — made from cheap vegetable fats.
When vegetable oils are hydrogenated … their molecules are chemically re-arranged. This produces a fat — trans fat — that becomes semi-hard at room temperature. Basically, trans fats mimic the saturated fats that our taste buds love. We are naturally drawn to the taste and the consistency.
The semi-solid trans fats are great for baking … and not expensive like butter or lard. This is a big plus for food processors … and the reason trans fats are found in most baked goods — as well as fried foods. While this cheap alternative to butter is a boon for the food makers … it is a dangerous bust for consumers. In the US alone, an estimated 100,000 people die prematurely every year … due to the use of trans fats.
So What’s so Bad About Trans Fats?
Trans fats have the worst effect on your cholesterol levels of all fats. They drive up your levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol … at the same time lowering your levels of heart-protective HDL cholesterol. Trans fats’ overall effect on your cholesterol levels is … twice as bad as the effect of saturated fats.
Recently, trans fats have also come under fire for damaging the lining of your arteries. It’s this damage that leads to hardening of the arteries and higher blood pressure. The linings of your arteries play a very important role in controlling blood pressure. When these vital linings become damaged, their function is impaired — resulting in high blood pressure.
How Can You Avoid Trans Fats?
Although trans fats were first used in margarine … most margarines have eliminated this deadly fat. But, they’re still found in many baked goods and fried foods. In fact, because of their low cost and convenience — trans fats keep foods from spoiling — hydrogenated oils are being used even more.
Keep clear of donuts, French fries, pastries, fast foods … even the seemingly healthy granola bar often contains this dangerous fat. Check labels carefully … avoid any food that contains hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Finally, a Little Help from the FDA
Fortunately, it is starting to get easier to find these dangerous trans fats — and avoid them. As of January 2006, the FDA is requiring food makers to list the trans fat content … on the Nutrition Facts label found on all products.
Even a small amount of trans fats in your diet is bad for your heart health. Switch over to healthier fats today. Not all fats are bad for you. In fact, some fats will even help you lower your blood pressure. Olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish will give your body a good dose of healthy fats.