Not all fats are created equal. There are differing schools of thought regarding what fats are considered healthy, yet everyone agrees that trans fats have no health benefits. The Food and Drug Administration has finally concurred. Just last week they decided that we should no longer be eating trans fats. Food manufacturers now have to remove trans fats from processed foods and they have 3 years to do it. So let’s back up a bit…
Trans Fats Defined
With all of the talk about trans fats over the last decade, many people still don’t know exactly what they are. A trans fat, also know as partially hydrogenated oil, is not found in nature-it is a man-made fat molecule. It starts with a polyunsaturated fat and chemists will transition the molecule by adding a hydrogen atom (partially hydrogen-ating) to it. This makes the molecule more stiff, shelf-stable, and inexpensive to use. It is a food manufacturer’s dream because now they can do a little “magic” to these fats, allowing the food product to stay on the shelf for a very long time (think Twinkies, Ding Dongs, prepackaged muffins). Traditionally these fats were found in a wide variety of processed foods such as salad dressing, margarine, baked goods, crackers, and cookies; however since 2006 when the amount of trans fats were mandated to be on a label food manufacturers started making changes.
So What’s the Problem?
While trans fats are great for manufacturing food to stay around for a long time, it is detrimental to your health. The late Mary Enig was a research nutritionist who spent her life researching fats, specifically saturated fats and trans fats. She started her research in the 1970s and was vocal in her findings. She was one of the first researchers to recognize that naturally occuring saturated fat and man-made trans fats were used differently in the body. In the 1980s she recognized some of the problems related to trans fats as:
- blocking the utilization of essential fatty acids
- causes sexual dysfunction and sterility
- increased blood cholesterol
- paralysis of the immune system
- low-birth weight babies
- birth defects
- decreased visual acuity
- difficulty in lactation
- problems with bones and tendons
- interfere with insulin receptors which have been linked to the development of diabetes
These problems have been around and identified for a long time and now our food manufacturers will have to follow suit. In 2013 the FDA recognized that trans fats are “no longer recognized as safe” and now they are taking action. This move by the FDA is long overdue, but hey, better late than never, right?