By Cat, July 2007 (Photo, right, from Western Family Products (1))
Trans fats (partially hydrogenated fats) are much in the news today, and now even have their own space on food labels, so that enlightened consumers can avoid their consumption. But this labeling creates confusion, which I discuss in this article.
The reason for the mandatory labeling of trans fats is because they have been implicated in high blood pressure, heart disease and a whole host of other disease states. Trans fats are highly processed, chemically altered fats that no longer resemble the natural vegetable oils from which they were derived. The vegetable oils are subjected to high heat and pressure, in the presence of hydrogen and a metallic catalyst, to change the texture of the fat from a liquid oil to a spreadable solid fat. This textural change is the consequence of the change in geometry of the fatty acids in the oil from a natural, bio-active cis form to an unnatural, non-bio-active trans from.
- The cis form of a fatty acid causes an important kink in the fat, that allows it to be recognized by enzymes and cellular signaling systems.
- The trans form of a fatty acid does not have the kink but rather a rigid straight structure that is not recognized by the body’s cellular systems and creates havoc when the trans fatty acid is incorporated in a cell membrane. The presence of trans fatty acids in a fat also lowers the fat’s melting point so that it is semi-solid at room temperature.
The Problem with Food Labeling of Trans Fats
Food manufacturers are very clever. They have figured out how they can continue to use their toxic chemically altered fats in foods and get away with it. You CANNOT TRUST FOOD LABELING.
A label can report “0 grams Trans Fat” and still contain the noxious substance. This is because foods are allowed to count less than 0.5 g of trans fat/serving as “zero.” To take advantage of this loophole, they reduce the serving size to bring it below the limit.
Additionally, some fats are not defined by the FDA as a “fat” and hence do not fall under the labeling requirement. The FDA’s definition of a fat requires that it be a ‘triglyceride’ (three fatty acids in the molecule); if the molecule has only one or two fatty acids (as mono- or di-glycerides), they don’t qualify as a fat and hence do not require labeling. Thus even tho a mono-glyceride contains a trans fatty acid, it does not fall under the labeling rule. only fats in the form of triglycerides are defined as “fat;” thus, fats as mono or diglycerides do not have to be counted as “fat.”)
How to be safe from Trans Fats
- Watch the serving size. A box of crackers may indicate serving size as 1 cracker, with 0.3 g trans fat/cracker, and thus report 0 trans fats. But if the serving size were just 4 crackers, that would contain enough (1.2 g) to require reporting on the label.
- Read the ingredients, looking for the words “hydrogenated,” “partially-hydrogenated,” or “mono-diglycerides,” as these are other names for trans fats.
For more on this subject, refer to my article Chemically Altered Fats.