Health Facts

Artificial Trans-Fat – You are taking more than you think!

Artificial Trans-Fat – You are taking more than you think

In a landmark move to improve general health, the United States’ regulators will be removing artificial trans-fat from US food supply in the next 3 years. This is because products containing such ingredients have been found to contribute to cardiovascular diseases.
When the change is fully implemented, it is estimated that more than 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths resulting from cardiovascular diseases can be prevented annually. This means that there will be major shake-ups in the food industry but at the moment, you might want to be more cautious about the types of food you eat.

Most companies and fast food chains have announced that they are removing artificial trans-fats from their products but there are still some who are still doing so.

Wendy’s – If you liked the Baconator, then you might be interested to know that this burger contains 2.5gms of trans fat. Surprising, it was voted top favourite burger in a certain poll recently.

Popeye’s – This is not that popular in Asia but you see them around. Their Cajun Fries carry 3.5gms of trans-fat and with 770 calories, it is one of the top contributors to obesity if taken uncontrollably.

Bojangle – The very popular Mac & Cheese has been the top of many lists. One of them includes the amount of trans-fat. It has a total of 14gms of fats of which half of this is trans-fat which means that you are taking a lot more of the unhealthy ingredient than any other types of fast food. It is one of the latest additions to the fast food market and if they do not buckle up soon, they could well be going down.

Burger King – You would know the Triple Whooper if you have been to Burger King. There are 4gms of trans-fat in its 75gms of fats. The calorie count here breaches 1,000.

The Trans Fats Dilemma and Natural Palm Oil

By Gene A. Spiller, Ph.D., CNS
The book is about trans fats and oil extracted from the palm fruit. Partially hydrogenated fats, or transs fats, can be found in a wide variety of bakery products, fried foods, salad dressing and many other foods. This book delves insights from researchers and scientists who have studied natural fats and trans fats. It also has a great description on how trans fats are constructed, understanding fats in foods and how to successfully incorporate fats into a balanced daily diet.

What you should know about Trans Fattys Acid (TFA)
Trans fatty acid in the diet comes from two main sources, namely

  1. The hydrogenation or “hardening” of edible oils and fats which is widely-used by the food industry in margarines, vegetable ghee, shortenings, confectionery fats, etc., enhancement of product shelf-life, and as frying media for fast foods such as French fries and doughnuts
  2. From bacterial fermentation in the gut of ruminants with TFA ending up in the meat and dairy products (milk, butter, cheese, etc)

Depending on the degree of hydrogenation, trans-fats in food products can contain anywhere from 5% to a high 40% TFA!
Trans Fatty Acids
 Chemical Structure
A cis unsaturated fatty acid (i.e. a fatty acid having at least one carbon-carbon double bond) has the hydrogen atoms oriented on the same side of the carbon-carbon double bond – producing a bend in the fatty acid molecule. Trans fatty acids are unsaturated fatty acids, in which the hydrogen atoms are oriented on opposite sides of the carbon-carbon double bond. As a result of this orientation, a relatively straight fatty acid chain results.

Where do you find trans fatty acids?
Widespread in the diet. Main source is from commercially hydrogenated vegetable oils – used in formulating margarines, shortenings, salad and cooking oils. Also from animal fats (beef, lamb) and milk fat.

The hydrogenation process
Hydrogen atoms added to double bonds of fatty acid using very high temperatures and a metal catalyst (e.g. nickel). Main fatty acids in vegetable oils that are hydrogenated are the 18 carbon, oleic, linoleic and linolenic acids (N.B. all have = 1 double bonds). Some shifting of double bonds occurs and many cis double bonds get converted to trans double bonds.
Partial hydrogenation produces a mixture of cis and trans somers. Complete hydrogenation produces the fully saturated 18C stearic acid. During partial hydrogenation of polyunsaturated oils there is isomerization and migration of double bonds. This results in a distribution of cis and trans double bonds. Thus products containing trans fatty acids invariably have a distribution of isomers which will depend on the conditions employed during the hydrogenation process. A major tFA isomer is – elaidic acid (t9 – 18:1).
Dairy products and meats have appreciable levels of t9 – 16:1 and t11 – 18:1 (vaccenic acid).

Why hydrogenate? 
This is done typically to improve plasticity, increase the melting range and improve flavor stability

Estimates of trans fatty acid consumption 
Average per capita consumption
8 g/person/day or 6% of total US fat consumption (Hunter & Applewhite, 1991)
Upto 27 g/person/day or 24% of total fat intake in certain groups (Enig et al, 1990)
9.6 g trans fatty acids consumed in a 1800 calorie diet – or 5% of total fat intake (Litin and Sacks 1993) 
3-13 g/person/day (Craig-Schmidt, 2001)
7 g trans fatty acids /day Scottish diet – some cases up to 48 g/day (Bolton-Smith et al, 1995)

Food sources of trans fatty acids 

Stick margarines ~ 3 g/serving 
Vegetable shortenings ~ 2.5 g/serving 
Milk ~ 0.2 g/serving 
Butter ~ 0.4 g/serving 
Meats ~ 0.1 g/serving 
Main contributors – pastries, fried foods (doughnuts, french fries), dairy products and meats 

Check trans fatty acid content of foods in USDA data-base and trans fatty acid data-base 

Health effects of dietary trans fatty acids  

Starting with a clinical report from the Netherlands in 1990, and an epidemiological study from the United States in 1993, there is now strong scientific evidence to support the notion that trans fatty acid (tFA) consumption is detrimental to human health. The accumulated evidence on the effects of tFA consumption on blood LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels, is consistent with the observations associating tFA consumption with increased risk of premature heart disease. Since the initial reports, many clinical studies as well as the results from several epidemiological studies have led various health agencies and governments to impose restrictions on tFA, as mounting evidence shows that they may be even worse than saturated fatty acids with regards to their effects on blood cholesterol levels (specifically the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol). Recently, it has been reported that tFA consumption is positively associated with markers of systemic inflammation. In addition tFA has been reported to be an independent predictor of diabetes.