For women with heart disease, eating too many artery-clogging trans fats may increase their risk of dying suddenly from cardiac arrest.
Trans fats, found largely in commercially prepared baked and fried foods, have become notorious in recent years because they not only raise "bad" LDL cholesterol, but also lower levels of heart-healthy HDL cholesterol. High trans-fat intake has been linked to coronary heart disease, in which fatty plaques build up in the heart arteries, sometimes leading to a heart attack.
In a new study, researchers found that among nearly 87,000 U.S. women followed for 26 years, trans fat intake was linked to an increased risk of sudden cardiac death among women who had underlying coronary heart disease. In this group, women who ate the most trans fats were three times more likely to die of cardiac arrest.
I first learned of the dangers of trans fats in the 1970s, and today, nearly 40 years later, they are finally being labeled as the true poisons they really are.
Trans fats are formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil during food processing in order to make it solidify. This process, known as hydrogenation, makes fats less likely to spoil, so foods stay fresh longer, have a longer shelf life and also have a less greasy feel.
Typically, what’s good for food manufacturers’ profits is not so good for your body, and could quite literally kill you. Among women with underlying coronary heart disease, eating trans fats increased the risk of sudden cardiac arrest three-fold!
Even if you don’t have heart disease, you need to avoid these fats like the plague. Even the Institute of Medicine said your intake should be "as low as possible." They were given the opportunity to establish a “safe upper limit,” but declined doing so because, quite simply, there isn't one!
What’s so Bad About Trans Fats?
The end result of the hydrogenation process is a completely unnatural fat that causes dysfunction and chaos in your body on a cellular level.
Trans fats have been linked to:
Cancer: They interfere with enzymes your body uses to fight cancer.
Diabetes: They interfere with the insulin receptors in your cell membranes.
Decreased immune function: They reduce your immune response.
Problems with reproduction: They interfere with enzymes needed to produce sex hormones.
Heart disease: Trans fats can cause major clogging of your arteries.
Trans fat is also known to increase blood levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, while lowering levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol.
Trans fats even interfere with your body’s use of beneficial omega-3 fats, and have been linked to an increase in asthma.
How You Can Avoid Trans Fats
It's no surprise that trans fats are found in fried foods like French fries, fried chicken, and doughnuts - as well as cookies, pastries and crackers. In the United States, French fries typically contain about 40 percent trans fatty acids and many popular cookies and crackers range from 30 percent to 50 percent trans fat. Doughnuts have about 35 percent to 40 percent trans fatty acids.
Due to all the bad press trans fats are getting, in recent years many food manufacturers have removed them from their products. But there’s an important caveat you should know … The FDA allows food manufacturers to round to zero any ingredient that accounts for less than 0.5 grams per serving.
So while a product may claim that it does not contain trans fats, it may actually contain up to 0.5 grams per serving. If you eat a few servings, you’re quickly ingesting a harmful amount of this deadly fat.
So to truly avoid trans fats, you need to read the label and look for more than just 0 grams of trans fat. Check the ingredients and look for partially hydrogenated oil. If the product lists this ingredient, it contains trans fats.
Watch Out for Trans Fats’ Unhealthy Replacement Fat, Too
Now that the health dangers of trans fats have been clearly exposed, the food industry would do you a great favor by returning to the use of natural saturated fats. But that would mean reversing their entirely unscientific, 50-year campaign to vilify saturated fats, and would bring an end to the enormously powerful edible oil industry.
Instead, the food industry has been widely replacing trans fats with intersterified fat, another unnatural fat that you’d be wise to avoid.
The interesterification process hardens fat, similar to the hydrogenation process, but without producing oils that contain trans fats. The end product, like trans fat, is less likely to go rancid and is stable enough to use to fry foods.
However, like hydrogenation, which generates unnatural trans fats, interesterification also produces molecules that do not exist in nature.
The highly industrialized process of interesterification may result in a product that is trans fat-free, but that product will still contain chemical residues, hexanes, and other hazardous waste products full of free radicals that cause cell damage.
Studies show that interesterified fat raises your blood glucose and depresses insulin production. These conditions are common precursors to diabetes, and can present an even more immediate danger if you already have the disease.
After only four weeks consuming these fats, study volunteers’ blood glucose levels rose sharply -- by 20 percent. This is a much worse result than what is seen with trans fats.
Natural vegetable oils that have been processed in any way will create problems for your body at the cellular level. These fats are no longer in their natural state, and your body doesn’t know how to handle them. Your system will try to make use of them and in the process, these fats end up in cell membranes and other locations where they can wreak havoc with your health.
Fortunately avoiding these fats is relatively easy as they are in virtually all the foods that trans fats are, so by avoiding trans fat, and processed foods in general, you will also avoid interesterified fats. If a processed food product is labeled “0% trans fats” or “no trans fats” but is made from vegetable oils, you can be certain it contains either interesterified fats or fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, both of which you’ll want to avoid.
Healthy Fat Tips to Live By
Sadly, if you’re like most Americans, your diet consists predominantly of processed food. And eating processed foods, especially those with a long shelf life, means you’re consuming interesterified fats, trans fats, or some other type of man-made ingredient that your body was not designed to metabolize.
If you want to avoid dangerous fats of all kinds, your best bet is to eliminate processed foods from your diet. From there, use these tips to make sure you’re eating the right fats for your health:
Use organic butter (preferably made from raw milk) instead of margarines and vegetable oil spreads. Butter is a healthy whole food that has received an unwarranted bad rap.
Use coconut oil for cooking. It is far superior to any other cooking oil and is loaded with health benefits.
Following my nutrition plan will automatically reduce your modified fat intake, as it will teach you to focus on healthy whole foods instead of processed junk food.
To round out your healthy fat intake, be sure to eat raw fats, such as those from avocados, raw dairy products, and olive oil, and also take a high-quality source of animal-based omega-3 fat, such as krill oil.