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What are Trans Fats
and Hydrogenated Oils?

For one thing, they're HARD Fats to avoid!

So just what are trans fats, hydrogenated oils, trans fatty acids? -- Food ingredients you may have heard of but may still be unclear about where you find them and why they are BAD for you?

So What Are Trans Fats (1) A Quick Fat Primer

Most of us have probably heard by now that we should reduce the levels of saturated fats in our diet. We have also probably heard that unsaturated fats are better for us -– in fact some will know that these fats occur in two key types: poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated. Beyond this general information about dietary fat our knowledge may begin to get a bit 'thin'!

Saturated fats are the types of fats that derive from animal sources. When we think of animal fats in their natural state, as we see them on a 'nice' piece of steak, or a lamb chop, some belly pork, or even a plump chicken, we can envisage a lump of something quite hard, opaque and white or yellowish. At room temperature such is the state of animal fat – hard and 'lard' like. This type of fat when stored well can last quite a long time and is useful in lots of traditional recipes!

Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, derive from vegetable sources. Fats of this kind commonly occur in the form of oils -- or liquid fat -- at typical room temperature. They are generally healthier and some of the unsaturated vegetable oil sources contain essential fatty acids necessary for good health.

Short and simple -– we need to consume some unsaturated fats in a balanced diet in order to remain healthy. So, let nobody be under any misapprehension that we should cut all fats out of our diet. That would not only be unhealthy, it would even, ultimately, be fatal if we did! This type of oil tends, however, to have a relatively short lifespan, and can be a bit awkward for incorporating in certain popular recipes.

What Are Trans Fats (2) So Just What Are Trans Fats?

So, almost a century ago now, 'clever' scientists and food manufacturers developed and patented a process whereby vegetable oils could be turned into a type of 'lard' or hard fat by whipping hydrogen into the fat and creating what has been called a hydrogenated oil, or hydrogenated fat -- or indeed also referred to as Trans Fat. This process resulted in the creation of a cheap form of hard vegetable fat that could be easily incorporated in recipes plus it had a longer shelf-life, and greater flavor stability than the relatively healthy vegetable oils it was created from. Sounds good?

But NO!...Sadly the process of hydrogenation of oils, whilst helpful and more economical for food manufacturers, effectively also 'trans'formed the healthy unsaturated vegetable oils into unhealthy trans fats which it has transpired appear to have an even greater negative health impact than saturated animal fats. It is now known that these trans-fats raise the levels of the worst kinds of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL)in the blood, which have prime responsibility for depositing cholesterol in arteries and increasing the potential negative impact of cholesterol in the body tissues. This can then pave the way to heart disease, heart attack, strokes and other health problems deriving from the blockage of arteries.

The reputation of trans fats began to slide when research began to imply that such hydrogenated oils (basically all margarines) were, in fact, potentially a greater threat to health than much maligned butter ever had been!

Indeed, a substantial recent study of around 80,000 women, implied that every 5% increase in the amount of saturated (animal) fats they consumed, the risk of heart disease was increased by 17%. However it required only only a 2% increase in trans fats to increase the risk of heart disease by a staggering 93%!

What Are Trans Fats (3) Where Do We Find Them?

Unfortunately, avoiding trans-fats can be difficult due to their widespread use in many manufactured food products today. In fact the yellow-fats (or margarine) market has been one of the huge food story successes of the last 50 years. The first margarines where widely acknowledged as a poor tasting, poor textured and generally a poor-man's alternative to that good old 'saturated fat' dairy spread –- Butter. But continuous developments and improvements and massively influential marketing campaigns drove margarine consumption up and up throughout the 1960's, 70's and 80's.

At the same time, these cheap, plentiful, hydrogenated oils where made ever-increasing use of by food manufacturers. Easy to store, use and replace animal fats with, they were integrated into many processed food recipes -- from biscuits, through pastries, to sauces, and much, much more! All this to say that many of us are regularly and unwittingly consuming considerable amounts of hydrogenated oils, or trans fats, whenever we partake of many of our favorite processed foods and ready made products!

What Are Trans Fats (4) How Can We Avoid Them?

Due to a lack of legally enforced necessity to clarify precise ingredient used in certain products, even today you could be consuming trans fats, or hydrogenated oils, in many processed foods you eat daily.

Depending on which country you live in, you need to check labels for references to ingredients such as:

  • hydrogenated oils,

  • hydrogenated fat,

  • partially-hydrogenated fat,

  • vegetable margarine

  • -– as well as any statement that your favored foodstuff may contain trans-fats, such as may now appear on cartons or packs of margarines.

    If your chosen items contain any of these 'ingredients' – simply put the product back on the shelf and select an alternative that avoid the use of these potentially health-threatening fats and oils; or buy the 'basic ingredients' and start to make your products from scratch at home (you'll know just what went into it!) Or at worst, do without!

    As it happens most of the typical items that contain trans fats, such as biscuits, pastries, cakes, pies, and so on -- are also things that you should be striving to reduce in your diet. Plus if you must have these products (in moderation, naturally) you will find them immensely more enjoyable, and satisfying, if you bake your own!

    If you also immediately switch from vegetable margarines back to butter, or even better extra-virgin olive oil (fantastic on fresh crusty, warm-from-the-oven, home-baked bread!!)...and you'll never have to worry about just what are trans fats again!

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