This year, spring cleaning in my home includes cleaning out my family’s diet of an item that’s pretty much at the top of the naughty list: trans fats found in partially hydrogenated oils.
These oils are widely recognized as being a major cause of obesity and degenerative diseases such as heart disease and cancer, and contributing to impaired cellular function, nervous system disorders and premature aging. The trans fats in these oils raise your bad cholesterol levels (LDL); LDL contributes to the build up of cholesterol on artery walls. The double whammy of trans fats comes from the fact that they simultaneously lower good cholesterol levels (HDL); HDL transports excess cholesterol to the liver. Trans fats also block the body’s ability to absorb and use good essential fatty acids, such as omega-3s.
Using trans fats in the manufacturing of food products gives them a longer shelf life. Consequently, if you haven’t been conscious about trans fats, you will probably find them listed among the ingredients of many items in your fridge and pantry: many margarines, breakfast cereals, low-fat ice cream, crackers, commercially baked items, boxed cake mix, chips, popcorn, other snacks, and much more.
Hydrogenation is the process of passing hydrogen bubbles through oil as it’s being heated. This results in a denser oil. Full hydrogenation results in a solid oil. Partially hydrogenated oil produces a semi-solid butter like substance. Though it would seem to be otherwise, fully hydrogenated oils do not contain trans fats. Some trans fats occur naturally in some meat and dairy products. However, the ones that are of greatest concern are contained in factory manufactured items labeled partially hydrogenated or simply hydrogenated. Items that contain shortening also contain trans fats. When shopping, know that in the United States the food label can read 0 grams trans fat if it contains less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving. So, the more you eat of these items, the more trans fats you’re consuming though you may think you’re in the clear because of that “0 grams” label.
Replacing trans fatty junk with fresh fruit, vegetables, locally baked breads and cakes, homemade cookies, fresh popcorn, and cooking with organic butter or extra-virgin olive oil will boost the health of your entire family on so many levels, spare our landfills of a ton of excess packaging, and attune your taste buds to real, life enhancing food.