Dear Dr. B: What are trans-fats? Why all the fuss about them?

Before we discuss trans-fats we need to understand something about fat and fatty acids.

Fat is an important component of our diet. It is made up of two main groups of fatty acids – saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Unsaturated fatty acids are further subdivided into mono and poly-unsaturated fatty acids.

Experts say that our diet should contain less than 30 percent of fat. But who on earth would be able to calculate what percentage of fat he or she eats in a day? I have never been able to figure out how much fat is in my diet.

What I try to remember is that anything I eat that is oily, greasy or fatty immediately gets converted into fat and goes to my storage areas in my waist and butts. Eating fat hardens my arteries and raises my cholesterol level. And eating fat makes me fat. So, no surprises there!

Some fatty acids are good for us. But we should know which ones to eat so we can make the right choice. We should avoid foods containing saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids. They are not good for our arteries and heart. We should eat food containing unsaturated fatty acids (both mono and poly) and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Red meat, poultry, most dairy products (butter, cream, cheese, and full-fat milk), coconut oil, palm and palm kernel oil contains saturated fatty acids. But some of the stuff listed here tastes so good that it is hard to not to eat this! But we have to be careful. We should minimize saturated fat in our diet.

The dreaded trans-fats are artificially produced. They have the properties of saturated fats. They are also known as hydrogenated fats. Hydrogenation is a process where by liquid oils are made more solid i.e. unsaturated fat is processed to become more saturated which helps to increase the shelf life of processed foods.

Trans-fats are found in bakery products (crackers, cookies, and cakes), fried foods (chips, french fries), other commercial snack foods, and margarine made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or shortening.

Now, who can resist the temptation of freshly baked cookies and cakes? I guess we have to if we want to stay healthy. Trans-fat is very popular with food manufacturers. They increase the shelf life of their products, and often improves the texture of the food as well. That improves sales and profit margin!

When it comes to trans-fats and saturated fatty acids, the best thing is to eat leaner meats and low-fat dairy products. And avoid commercial foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or shortening. Read the labels when you buy cookies, crackers, microwaved popcorn, vegetable shortening and some margarine.

Unsaturated fatty acids help reduce blood cholesterol and Omega-3 reduces the risk of heart disease. Olive, canola and peanut oils, sesame, soy, corn, sunflower oils, non-hydrogenated margarines and nuts and seeds are good. And eat lots of fish – two to three times a week for Omega-3 fatty acids.

Well, I am getting hungry. I wonder if my favorite peanut butter chocolate chip cookie from Tim Horton’s has trans-fats. Well, do I really want to know?

Thought for the week:

“There is one way to be born, but a million and one ways to die.”


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