Friday, July 24, 2009

Trans Fat : Stealth Killer

Trans fats are stealth killers lurking in our food, causing the early death and debility of many thousands of people a year in the UK. They are mainly found in (partially) hydrogenated vegetable oil, common ingredients in thousands of food products.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, at least 30,000 people, and probably more like 100,000 people a year in the USA die prematurely from coronary heart disease as a result of eating trans fats. If Britons are dying in similar proportions to population, some 5,000 - 20,000 people could be dying prematurely every year in the UK, or 15 - 60 people every day.

And that's without looking at the role of trans fats in causing Alzheimer's disease, type 2 diabetes, omega-3 essential fatty acid deficiency and other disabling and life-threatening conditions

What are trans fats?

Trans fats are unsaturated oils or fats whose 3-d molecular structure has been alterered, usually by prolonged exposure to high temperature. This happens mainly during hydrogenation: the industrial process that hardens liquid vegetable oils by making them more saturated. Unsaturated oils normally occur in nature in the cis configuration, but during hydrogenation the oils can 'flip' into the unnatural and damaging trans configuration - hence the name 'trans fat'.

Small amounts of natural trans fat also occur in meat and butter, but (contrary to food industry claims) there is no evidence that these are harmful like the synthetic trans fats made from vegetable oil, in the quantities in which they occur. Indeed the naturally-occuring Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA), which occur in the trans configuration, are beneficial to health.

Why trans fats?

Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils - the main dietary source of trans fats - are very useful to the food industry. They are cheap; they have neutral flavour; they melt in the mouth, like butter; and they have very long shelf lives, which they confer to the products that contain them. Unlike other unsaturated oils and fats which go rancid over time, hydrogenated fats are highly resistant to oxidation and rancidity.

Trans fats are therefore found in thousands of everyday food products, such as margarine, cakes, pies, biscuits, some vegetable oils, cheap chocolate, other confectionery and ice cream, and ready-made meals. They also occur widely in fast food, as the industry - including local fish and chip shops - often use hydrogenated oil for frying, as well as in shortening.

High Street bakeries also make great use of hydrogenated oil as shortening for pastries and fallings. Even home-baked cakes and pastries are a risk, as hydrogenated oil occurs frequently in margarines, "vegetable fat", "vegetable suet", ready-made pastries and other such ingredients.

As for the fact that trans fats are seriously toxic, causing premature death and misery on a massive scale, the food industry just doesn't care. I only know of one other industry that treats its customers with the same callous disregard, knowingly selling them products that will lead to unnecessary illness and premature death - the tobacco industry.

Article Source : tfX, the campaign against trans fats in food.

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