TRANS FATS: DESTROYER OF HEALTH
Although there have been hundreds (probably thousands) of studies on this topic over the past several decades, there is still lots of questionable information floating around on fats. One of the biggest misconceptions is that as far as your health is concerned, Trans Fats (a completely man made, artificial, substance), is essentially the same thing as Saturated Fat. I am going to show you that this is simply not the case. I am also going to show you that when it comes to dietary fats, Trans Fats, and not Saturated Fats are the chief destroyer of health. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
WHAT ARE TRANS FATS?
As I said in the previous paragraph, Trans Fats are completely man made. They are a cheap substitute for the real thing. Vegetable Oils (corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, etc) that have been treated with chemical solvents used to bleach them white and deodorize them, are then "Hydrogenated" by forcing hydrogen atoms into them at high heat and pressure. Because the Hydrogenation is never "complete", it is usually referred to as "Partially Hydrogenated" (people with backgrounds in organic chemistry will understand this, but it is not critical for understanding how bad Trans Fats are). This means that officially the fat is not "Saturated" (even though it is a solid at room temperature).
In the late 1800's and early 1900's, German scientists developed a method of driving hydrogen atoms into vegetable oils (or sometimes into whale oil / fish oil) to convert them to a solid. The process of "Hydrogenation" spread to various parts of Europe until Procter & Gamble bought the US rights and set up a factory here in America. The name of their 1911 product? One that you likely grew up with ---- Crisco. Prior to this, people ate and cooked with lard, tallow, pork fat, and butter (or even bear "grease"). What is the common denominator here? They're all animal fats. Please note that obesity and heart disease were both extremely rare at this time.
As new sources of oils were found to hydrogenate (soybean oil was essentially a byproduct of animal feed until they started hydrogenating it), the hydrogenation industry literally exploded. Women were given free cookbooks from Proctor & Gamble that were full of recipes which relied on Crisco. Shortening was touted as "healthy" because it was made from "vegetables". And as the formulas were tweaked, it was discovered that Vegetable Shortening such as Crisco could actually produce foods that were thought by many to be superior in both taste and texture to those made with butter or lard. And no one could argue that Trans Fats provided foods with a longer shelf life --- something that the food manufacturers were quite interested in ---- particularly in the days before the Interstate Highway System and widespread refrigeration.
By the 1920's, animal fats were being largely phased out of the fledgling processed food industry as well as commercial bakeries. By the 1960's, Hydrogenated Vegetable oils had almost completely replaced animal fats across the board. If you are old enough to remember, much of this was due to the suggestion that animal fats were the cause of all sorts of health problems, including heart disease. You probably also remember that one of the selling points of these products was that they are made from healthy "Vegetables" (Vegetable Shortening).
Even though one of the most prestigious medical journals on the planet (The Lancet) suggested a relationship between hydrogenated oils and heart disease back in 1956, the information was largely buried / ignored, and life went on as usual. As people bought into the whole "unsaturated fats are healthy / saturated fats are unhealthy" myth (HERE), the hydrogenation industry exploded. However, by the late 1980's the tide was beginning to turn. Researchers were hollering for more funding for studies; and as the money and studies poured forth, the Trans Fat empire began to collapse, albeit slowly.
The earlier studies showed that as many as 20,000 Americans per year were dying as a direct result of dietary Trans Fats in the form of hydrogenated oils. By 1994, studies had upped that number to over 30,000 death per year. Twelve years later, a study in the The New England Journal of Medicine raised the number of estimated annual deaths directly due to Trans Fats nearly three times to over 100,000, saying that, "On a per-calorie basis, trans fats appear to increase the risk of Coronary Heart Disease more than any other macronutrient, conferring a substantially increased risk at low levels of consumption." I know what you're thinking; if Trans Fats are so bad, could someone please tell me why? It all has to do with the Cell Membrane.
CELL MEMBRANES / THE LIPID BI-LAYER
Every single cell in your body (all 100 Trillion of them) are surrounded by Cell Membranes. In order to have good health, you must have properly functioning Cell Membranes. Cell membranes also give individual organs and tissues their unique shape and consistency. For Cell Membranes to function properly, you need to eat a diet loaded with good fats. You'll see why in a moment. Just remember that the kinds of fats and oils that you consume will dictate what sorts of fats and oils make up your cell membranes. I realize that purposely consuming any dietary fat is frowned upon by large numbers of supposed "experts", but without quality fats in your diet, serious illnesses will ensue. Some of the functions of Cell Membranes include.......
Cell Membranes are said to be "Selectively Permeable". In English, this means that the cells choose what they allow to enter into them or go out of them, in relationship to what their individual needs are. There are several methods of transporting things across the Cell Membrane. We will explore some of these related to disease processes when we specifically deal with the Cell Membrane in just a moment.
Consuming Trans Fats in the form of Partially Hydrogenated Oils is a veritable death sentence. Oh, don't get me wrong ---- it's not like they will kill you as soon as they hit your mouth. Instead, they'll do in a slower and more subtle fashion. It is now known that consuming these man made fats dramatically changes both the structure and the function of the Cell Membranes. This means that man made Trans Fats can kill you in a slow, painful manner (Diabetes) --- or all at once (Heart Attack). Follow along as I show you some things that just might save your life, while giving you a better quality of living in the process.
As you saw in the pictures above, Cell Membranes are composed of two layers of phospholipids that are positioned opposite each other. Their attracted-to-water (hydrophillic) tails face each other so that the water-repelling (hydrophobic) heads create a barrier-like outside edge of the cell. This allows the cell to block substances from entering the cell ----- unless the cell decides it needs to let them in. When it all works like it should, life is peachy. When it does not, health can go south in a hurry.
Trans Fats create what some experts refer to as "Stupid Cell Membranes". Allow me to explain. As more and more Trans Fats are incorporated into Cell Membranes, they lose both their flexibility and ability transmit and receive messages. After this, they begin to fail at being "Selectively Permeable". On one hand, they start letting things into the cells that should not be there, while preventing things from coming in that should be in the cell. On the other hand, they keep things inside the cell that should be let out (i.e. metabolic waste products) and let things out that should stay in.
One of the chief ways that this happens is that the specific fats and oils that make up the "lipid bilayer" (Cell Membrane) must be able to respond to their environment, and respond quickly --- almost instantaneously. One of the reasons your body can metabolically react like it does to things like hormones, neurotransmitters, inflammatory mediators, nutritional compounds, drugs, etc, is because of the fluidity of the Cell Membranes. Take away that fluidity and the body reacts in completely different ways. As you might imagine, the less flexible your Cell Membranes become, the more prone to diseases you are.
"[Trans Fats have] no safe level of human consumption. [They have a] tolerable upper intake level of zero." From a 2002 report put out by the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Science.
Because Systemic Inflammation has been strongly associated with dozens of disease processes as well as dramatic increases in C-Reactive Protein (CRP), it is advised to learn what it is and how to avoid it. We know that Trans Fats are one of the major sources of Inflammations for most Americans. In fact, several governmental organizations have issued statements regarding the fact that there is no level of the Partially Hydrogenated (artificial / man made) Trans Fats that can be safely consumed in our diets.
- HEART DISEASE / CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE: There have been dozens of studies linking dietary fat to Heart Disease. Be aware that while the evidence for a causal link between Trans Fats and Heart Disease is overwhelming, the evidence for a causal link between Saturated Fats and Heart Disease is not. We can see this in a blood test by watching for an increase in the ratio of bad cholesterol to good. Remember also that although Trans Fats contain no cholesterol themselves, they jack the ratio of the LDL (bad) to the HDL (good).
- IMMUNE SYSTEM FUNCTION: Studies have shown that Trans Fats stimulate the part of the Immune System that deals with Inflammation. Look at the earlier link. How many diseases are associated with Inflammation? Too many to count. Interestingly enough, there is a growing body of researchers (see previous bullet point) who believe that high cholesterol has little to do with dietary cholesterol. Instead they believe that Cholesterol is the body's "patch" to fix the damage that occurs in arteries caused by ---- you guessed it ----- Inflammation.
- ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE: Although this one is also being linked to high blood sugar and HFCS, the Archives of Neurology tied it to Trans Fats in a study that was published almost 10 years ago to the day.
- CANCER: The first studies on Trans Fats and cancer occurred back in the 1940's. Since then the consensus of the mainstream medical community is that there is either no link, or the link is minimal. However, there are numerous scientists and studies from around the world linking the two. Stop for a moment and think. It is only logical that impairing the integrity of the cell's guardian membrane would have consequences as far as cancer is concerned.
- DIABETES: Stupid Cell Membranes have been shown by studies not to function optimally as far as allowing glucose in and out of the cells. Trans Fats have been shown to alter the effects of both Insulin and Insulin Receptors (Insulin Resistance); a precursor to / component of Type II Diabetes.
- OBESITY: Trans Fats cause obesity ---- even in the absence of caloric excess. Like Cortisol, their intake is shown to cause most of the excess fat to be deposited in the abdominal area. Abdominal Obesity is associated with far more health issues than generalized weight gain.
- LIVER FUNCTION: The Liver is your body's chemist. Trans Fats alter the way that your body metabolizes certain fats. Be aware that the most common cause of mild to moderately raised levels of liver enzymes is a fatty liver, and a fatty livers occur most commonly in people who are obese.
- FEMALE INFERTILITY: Just a 2% increase in Dietary Trans Fats caused female infertility to skyrocket.
- DEPRESSION: Studies have shown that Trans Fats lower brain levels of DHA. DHA is the two active components of PFGO. Note that dozens of scientific studies have linked low brain levels of DHA to Major Depressive Disorder (DEPRESSION).
For someone who is GLUTEN SENSITIVE, they will often feel better almost immediately after cutting wheat and wheat products out of their diet, the same cannot usually be said for Trans Fats. This has to do with the fact that once Trans Fats are incorporated into the Cell Membranes, they tend to stick around indefinitely. If you cut Trans Fats from your diet and dramatically increase the intake of healthy fats (including "clean / unprocessed" animal fats), it will take time for the Cell Membranes to regenerate themselves. How long, I'm not sure. But don't expect for all of these problems to go away overnight just because you changed your diet.
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS HEALTHY TRANS FATS?
TRANS FATS MAKE UP A SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF THESE COMMON FOODS
"Unlike butter, the manufactured hydrogenated vegetable fat in crackers, and cookies, precooked french fries, and pot pies, buns, muffins, salad dressings, chicken legs, and fish filets, ensured that the product that started out in New Jersey would still be fresh when it got to Washington state and for months and years to come. It would preserve foods shipped across the seas." Judith Shaw from Trans Fats; The Hidden Killer in our Foods.
- Commercial French Fries
- Commercial Peanut Butter
- Almost Anything that is Commercially Battered and Fried (Fried Chicken)
- Baked Goods, Including Pie Crusts, Donuts, Cake Mixes, Muffins, Pancake / Waffle Mixes, Cookies, Biscuits, Sweet Rolls, Crackers, Pretzels, etc
- Many Breakfast Cereals
- Vegetable Shortening, Cake Frosting
- Non-Dairy Creamers & Fast Food Milk Shakes
- Microwave or Movie Theater Popcorn, Potato Chips, Corn Chips
- Fast Food / Snack Food / Candy Bars
- Numerous Packaged or Processed Foods
How can we determine whether or not Trans Fats are present in a food or not? Although Trans Fats were required to be labeled as such by a federal law passed in 2006 (See Below), things are never as easy as they should be. Remember how we learned earlier that Trans Fats are made up of oils that have been "Hydrogenated"? It used to be that you simply looked for the numbers of grams of Partially Hydrogenated Fats on a food label. With the new law, all we need to do is look for the numbers of grams of Trans Fats --- sort of.
As unbelievable as it may sound to you (sarcasm is intended), when the government created the regulations to disclose the amount of Trans Fats to the general public via food labels, they created a loophole --- one that in many cases you could drive a Mack truck through. They said that as long as a food does not have at least .5 grams of Trans Fats per serving, it does not need to be labeled as containing Trans Fat. Think about it this way; many of the foods that contain copious amounts of Trans Fats also happen to be foods that come in very small serving sizes. Let me explain. A certain cookie may have .49 grams of Trans Fat per serving. But if a serving size is two small cookies, and the average person eats a dozen at a sitting, they are getting a serious jolt of Trans Fat ----- nearly 6 grams ---- even though the "Government Approved" food label tells you that these cookies contain 0 grams of Trans Fats. Make sure that you not only read the "Nutrition Facts" part of the label (below), but the "List of Ingredients" as well. Again, just look for the words Hydrogenated or Partially Hydrogenated.
HOW TO GET TRANS FATS OUT OF YOUR LIFE
Since the early 1970s, for instance, Americans' average fat intake has dropped from over 40% of total calories to 34%; average serum cholesterol levels have dropped as well. But no compelling evidence suggests that these decreases have improved health. Although heart disease death rates have dropped--and public health officials insist low-fat diets are partly responsible--the incidence of heart disease does not seem to be declining, as would be expected if lower fat diets made a difference. This was the conclusion, for instance, of a 10-year study of heart disease mortality published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1998, which suggested that death rates are declining largely because doctors are treating the disease more successfully. AHA statistics agree: Between 1979 and 1996, the number of medical procedures for heart disease increased from 1.2 million to 5.4 million a year. "I don't consider that this disease category has disappeared or anything close to it," says one AHA statistician. Food Researcher Gary Taubes from a 2003 internet article.
And if you simply followed logic, you would have to assume that dramatically cutting back on fat and it's 9 calories per gram as opposed to 4 calories per gram for both carbs and protein, would solve the problem. Only it hasn't solved the problem. It's made it worse. This is because most doctors do not have as good of an understanding of the relationship between the Endocrine System and weight as they should have (HERE). And even though study after study is showing that animal fats (particularly fats from non-obese, clean animals) is not the pariah it was once thought to be, we are still bombarded by experts telling us to further cut down our intake of fat (Fuhrman, Pritikin, Ornish, McDougal, etc). Here are a few simple ways to get healthy fats into your system while avoiding the baddies.
- IF IT CONTAINS HYDROGENATED OR PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED FATS, DON'T BUY IT OR PUT IT IN YOUR MOUTH: It's not rocket science folks. Learn to read labels as though your life depends on it ---- mainly because it does. Just look at the list I created for you and avoid those foods as well. When you eat Trans Fats, you are changing your Cell Membranes for the worse. Unfortunately, it takes far longer to change them back. A key fact you must understand about these artificial fats is that they have a half-life of about 50 days. This means that after 100 days, 25% of the Trans Fats in the Krispy Kreme you ate just over 3 months ago is still part of your cell membranes!
- USE BUTTER INSTEAD OF MARGARINE: It never ceases to amaze me how many crappy spreads out there tout themselves as "Heart Healthy" when they know darn well that this is far from the case. For Pete's sake, use BUTTER!
- USE COCONUT OIL TO COOK WITH & EVOO FOR SALAD DRESSINGS: Remember that it is possible to turn good fats into Trans Fats via heat. Don't believe the hooey that certain celebrity doctors are saying about Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Fuhrman says it's on the short list of "worst foods"). It is the best salad dressing base I have found. Stay away from crappy "VEGETABLE OILS".
- EAT GOOD FATS FROM A WIDE VARIETY OF SOURCES: Nuts, wild fish, raw dairy (for those not sensitive), and even SATURATED FAT from "clean" meats are all fine to eat, and will provide you with quality fats to build healthy Cell Membranes with.
WHY ARE TRANS FATS INCORPORATED INTO VARIOUS FOODS IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Dr. Schierling completed four years of Kansas State University's five-year Nutrition / Exercise Physiology Program before deciding on a career in Chiropractic. He graduated from Logan Chiropractic College in 1991, and has run a busy clinic in Mountain View, Missouri ever since. He and his wife Amy have four children (three daughters and a son).
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