Why you have to become vigilant about your “food”.
60 Minutes produced a documentary on trans fats recently. It was a very interesting discussion about a common but insidious ingredient in many of the foods that people consume on a daily basis. Here is a summary about these dangerous fats, as well as some extra information that wasn’t covered in the documentary.
Paul Sabatier, a French chemist, discovered the process of hydrogenation in 1897. However, he didn’t use this innovative scientific invention in the processing of fats and oils. The process of heating plant-based oils and turning them into solid fats, was patented in 1903, when a German chemist called Wilhelm Normann boiled cottonseed oil at temperatures of more than 260 degrees C, and watched it solidify. This was a great step forward from using animal-based tallow to make candles, as now vegetable oils could be used for making candles. He received many awards for his contributions to the understanding of fats and oils in processing applications.
In 1911 Procter and Gamble used hydrogenation with cottonseed oil, to produce the first commercial shortening, or margarine, then marketed as a substitute for butter, as it stayed solid longer and contained less saturated fat.
It took decades to discover that these innovative procedures weren’t adding health to our food supply, but were in fact causing disease.
As food-processing procedures became more sophisticated, modifications were made to this basic hydrogenation process. They discovered a process called partial hydrogenation. The result of partial hydrogenation is a very smooth, very spreadable product, which consumers have become used to spreading on their bread, and using in their cooking.
However, partially hydrogenating fats led to the introduction of trans fatty acids into our food chain.
Unfortunately, apart from producing products that contain these damaged fat molecules, trans fats, the products also contain residues from toxic metals, such as aluminium and nickel, which are used in the hydrogenation process. When the liquid oil is bombarded with hydrogen atoms, in the presence of these heavy metals, which are used as catalysts, partial hydrogenation takes place. These residues accumulate in our nervous system, interfering with cellular functions. The toxic load increases every time we are exposed to them.
By the 1990’s, researchers began to realize that partially hydrogenated oils were not a good alternative to saturated fats. Unfortunately, food manufacturers had been enjoying the special qualities that hydrogenated fats gave their creations. Apart from being cheap, and available all year round, in huge quantities, they didn’t go rancid. They stayed moist, lending that lovely ‘buttery’ mouth feel to their products. So, manufacturers didn’t want to hear about the fact that trans fats could be damaging.
Denmark, which wasn’t mentioned on the 60 minutes program, reduced the production of trans fats in 2003, allowing a maximum of 2% of fat content in foods to be made up of trans fats, from 2004. Within 3 years they had noticed a 20% drop in deaths from heart disease.
At the end of 2006, New York City, under the governance of Mayor Bloomberg, was the first city in the world to ban the use of all, but very small amounts of trans-fats in their food outlets. Half a gram in any one item sold, is the new limit. Philadelphia has followed New York’s example, with a similar ban.
Trans fats have to be mentioned on the label, if more than half a gram is present per serving, in the USA, but the UK and Australia has not made it a legal stipulation to mention trans fats on labels yet.
Although the names used to describe ingredients that contain trans fats, can be misleading, trans fats are nevertheless found in them all. Read the labels of your processed foods, as the items below all contain trans fats:
• Partially hydrogenated fat• Hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO)• Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (PHVO)• Hydrogenated vegetable fat• Vegetable fat partially hydrogenated• Vegetable oil and fat, partially hydrogenated• Vegetable fat and hydrogenated vegetable oil• Partially hydrogenated vegetable and animal fats• Mono- or di-glycerides of fatty acids• Vegetable shortening• Vegetable suet crust• Vegetable oil solids• Margarine• Vegetable oil spread• Hydrogenated fat
The reason that these trans fats are so damaging is because their shape has changed. Hydrogen atoms have flipped over to the opposite sides of the double bond, which results in a straighter fatty acid, not what nature intended.
In fact, each damaged trans-fats molecule has six unsaturated bonds that are across from each other, instead of across from each other in a normal unsaturated molecule.