New Trans-Fat Labels for 2006 – too little, too late
government formally announced that food labels will be required to
disclose the amount of unhealthy trans-fatty acids they contain by
January 1, 2006. This means another 60,000 Americans will be at
increased risk of dying prematurely before this information is
available.1 You don’t have to be one of these victims of
ignorance – trans-fats are very easy to avoid. Trans-fats are
present in small amounts in meat and dairy products. However, the
largest doses of these unhealthy fats come to your dinner plate by
way of vegetable oils chemically changed by manufacturers to improve
their shelf life and customer appeal. Margarines and shortenings
(Crisco) are the predominant sources of these fats – contributing
80% to 90% of the trans-fats in the American diet. These synthetic
fats are then used in a great variety of common products such as
cookies, crackers, potato and tortilla chips, donuts, crackers,
cakes and frostings, baked goods, potpies, non-dairy creamers,
pizzas, fish sticks, and French fries. In Britain fish oils are
commonly made into trans-fat products.
Unless it is
clearly stated to the contrary, assume all boxed, canned and
packaged foods that list added fat as an ingredient contain
trans-fat. Deceptive labeling saying a product is “Low in Saturated
Fat” or “Low in Cholesterol” or “Cooked in Vegetable Oil” will tell
you nothing about the kinds of fats, and in fact, products with such
labels may be the worst offenders.2 These products may
contain up to 35% of their calories as trans-fat. One clue that
trans-fats are present is the words “partially hydrogenated oils”
found in the ingredient area of the label.
Even with the
new labeling laws you still won’t know about the trans-fat foods
that are served when you eat in restaurants and fast foods places.
These eateries use packaged ingredients containing trans-fats and
also deep fry many of their menu items in oils loaded with
Fats and oils
differ in that fats are solid at room temperature and oils are
liquid. The reason has to do with their chemical structure. All
kinds of fats are made of carbon atoms attached together in long
chains. When the chains are flat (more linear) and more rigid –
they fit together tightly making the final products solid. When the
chains are bent, then they are more flexible and loosely fitted
together – as a result the product is a liquid.
In some foods solid fats are more desired by the consumer than
liquid fats – the best examples are solid shortenings and margarines
that spread like butter. They also have a prolonged shelf life over
the natural oil, are lower in cost, and are more suitable for
commercial frying. Bombarding a liquid vegetable oil with hydrogen
turns it into a more solid product by straightening its carbon
in the next paragraph may be difficult for some people to
understand, but try to take the trouble to follow it)
occurring fats contain some double bonds – these are connections
with two arms (bonds) holding one carbon atom to the next in the
long chain of carbons (see the picture below) – each carbon on each
side of the double bond also has one hydrogen atom attached to it.
In most cases the two hydrogen atoms attached to these two carbons
involved in the double bond are located on the same (cis) side of
the double bond (causing a bend in the chain). Bombarding the
chains of carbon with hydrogen (in manufacturing) will rearrange the
molecules so that now the two hydrogen atoms attached to the two
carbons involved in the double bond are located on opposite (trans)
sides of each other. The end result is now the chain of carbons
making up the fat are straightened out – they now fit more tightly
together and are more solid (see the pictures above).
Cis fats are
also converted to trans-fats by bacteria living in the rumen of
animals like cows and sheep.3 As a result, trans-fats are
found in significant amounts in dairy products and meats.
What are the
It is estimated
that in Western countries 2% to 4% of the calorie intake is from
trans-fats. More specifically, in the USA 2% of the calories
consumed daily is estimated to be from trans-fats. These fats raise
total cholesterol, LDL “bad” cholesterol, and lower “good” HDL
cholesterol. The end result is an increase in your risk of clogged
arteries and in your risk of death from strokes and heart attacks.
One comprehensive analysis of the data showed a 2% increase in
calorie intake from trans-fat was associated with a 25% increase in
the risk of coronary heart disease.4
also be more cancer-promoting than other fats. They may contribute
to cancer by disruption of the natural cell membranes in our
bodies. Incorporation of these structurally deformed fats into the
cell walls can leave gaping holes which allow the passage of cancer
causing-chemicals into the inside of our cells where these chemicals
can damage the cell nucleus and thus cause cancer.5 They
may also increase our risk of cancer by affecting our immune and
hormonal (prostaglandin) systems.5 An increase in the
risk of colon cancer has been specifically found with increasing
consumption of trans fats.6
Like all fats,
they are easily stored in your own body fat (adipose tissues), thus
contributing to obesity.7 Along with obesity comes a
whole variety of associated health problems like type II diabetes,
hypertension, and arthritis.
very easy to avoid by eating a starch-based diet with the addition
of fruits and vegetables (The McDougall Diet). In the plant kingdom
double bonds are naturally made with a cis configuration. All
plants (with a few rare exceptions) contain these natural healthy
fats – you know them as Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats – in ideal
proportions in perfectly designed packages that have evolved over
hundreds of millions of years. Simply stay clear of most packaged
foods, and meat and dairy products – health hazards you have already
learned to avoid for many other sensible reasons.
WC. Trans fatty acids: are the effects only marginal? Am J
Public Health. 1994 May;84(5):722-4.
W. Fatty acids in some common food items in Canada. J Am Coll
Nutr. 1993 Dec;12(6):651-60.
3) Molkentin J.
Occurrence and biochemical characteristics of natural bioactive
substances in bovine milk lipids. Br J Nutr. 2000 Nov;84
4) Oomen CM
. Association between trans fatty acid intake and 10-year risk of
coronary heart disease in the Zutphen Elderly Study: a prospective
Lancet. 2001 Mar 10;357(9258):746-51.
5) Ip C.
Review of the effects of trans fatty acids, oleic acid, n-3
polyunsaturated fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid on mammary
carcinogenesis in animals. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Dec;66(6
6) Slattery M.
Trans-fatty acids and colon cancer. Nutr Cancer.
7) Garland M,
Sacks FM, Colditz GA, Rimm EB, Sampson LA, Willett WC, Hunter DJ.
The relation between dietary intake and adipose tissue composition
of selected fatty acids in US women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998