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Trans fats

Trans fats are formed when hydrogen attoms incorporated into poly-unsaturated vegetable oils. To improve the physical characeristics of  liquid oils, manufacturers add hydrogen into these potential unsaturated spaces and convert them to solid fats.

Why all of us are so concerned about trans-fats?

During the hydrogenation process these light vegetable oils convert into solid saturated fats. Additionally, a kind of chemical reaction occurs resulting in change in its configuration from its natural cis-form to trans-form.

Traditionally, cooking oils are either majority poly-unsaturated (Sunflower oil) or mono-unsaturated (Olive) oils. When oils converted to trans-fats, they behave much like saturated fats inside the body, that is; they elevate "bad cholesterol" or LDL levels and decrease the "good cholesterol" or HDL levels in the blood.

Trans fats in nature do not present in the plants and only occur in small amounts in meat and dairy products as vaccenic acid. Actually, most trans-fats consumed today are created industrially through partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils. So formed saturated fats have higher melting points and have a longer shelf-life which makes them attractive for frying and baking. However, high temperature boiling also catalyzes a side- reaction that isomerizes some of the cis-unsaturated fats into trans-unsaturated fats instead of hydrogenating them completely. Trans fats formed from partially hydrogenated oils are, in fact, more dangerous to health than naturally-occurring saturated fats like coconu oil, palm oil etc.

Furthermore, deep frying of food items (especially those rich in starch like corn-flour) results in the production of toxic chemical "acrylamide," deep brown color soot like compound develops on the surface of fried items. Eating excess of acrylamide for prolonged periods might cause liver cell and colon cancers.

How much Trans fat is acceptable in the diet?

Nil.... In fact, there are no safe levels for trans-fats in the diet and unlike other dietary fats, trans-fats are not at all essential for our body. New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM-2006 edition) scientific review states that "from a nutritional standpoint, the consumption of trans fatty acids results in considerable potential harm but no apparent benefit."

Health risks of Trans fats

  • Coronary heart disease: Since trans-fats behave like saturated fats, pose greater health risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and increased mortality.

  • Cancers: Regular consumption of Trans fatty acids in the diet increases the risk of breast and prostate cancers.

  • Obesity and Diabetes:  Trans-fat may increase the weight gain by favoring abdominal fat deposition. Obesity in turn is one of the major risk factor for type-2 diabetes.

  • Alzheimer's disease: A study published in Archives of Neurology in February 2003 suggested that the intake of both Trans-fats and saturated fats promote the development of Alzheimer disease.

Steps to avoid or at least to reduce Trans fat consumption in the diet.

  1. Avoid hydrogenated fats like "dalda" in foods.

  2. Avoid or minimize food preparations that use margarine, and shortenings such as cookies, pastry, etc.
  3. Use only small quantity of oil. See that the oil is not too high in temperature before food is put in.

  4. Do not re-use cooked oil.

  5. Use more stable oils at room temperature such as olive oil as add-on to foods, for instance, in salad dressing.

  6. Sautéing, use of tomato and onions as a base can substantially reduce the oil requirements.

  7. Shallow or stir frying.

  8. While frying, start with a small amount of oil at low heat and add small amounts of fresh oil to replace oil used up in frying.

Also read...> list of recommended fats and oils.

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