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Could your low-fat spread harm your health?

posted on Tuesday, 22nd June 2010 | find under 

TODAY I have my serious nutritionist/health news hat on, so prick up your ears.

It's fair to say that we're all a bit fat obsessed.  Good fats.  Bad fats.  Low fat.  Belly fat.  FAT!  It's a bit of a dirty word.

And after my last post about new scientific evidence proving that calorie cutting diets make you fat, yesterday, a top NHS research organisation pushed for trans fats to be banned from all foods.

According to NICE (The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence), trans fats significantly increase the risk of heart disease. And with around 6 million people in the UK suffering from cardiovascular conditions (including strokes) and over 40,000 people dying from premature cardiovascular disease every year, these are some statistics that made my ears prick up.  Especially since these are largely preventable conditions.

So how much do we know about these trans fats?  I've decided to turn super-sleuth nutritional scientist/historian to find out more.

First off, why am I writing about such a sexy subject on a sunny Wednesday?

  • Trans fats have been labelled toxic by the World Health Organisation
  • A US study back in 1994 estimated that trans fats were responsible for 20,000 deaths annnually (in the US)
  • Trans fats have ZERO health benefits
  • Trans fats increase 'bad' LDL cholesterol and reduce 'good' HDL cholesterol in the blood stream

Various studies have also connected trans fats with increasing the risk of developing Alzheimer's, cancer, diabetes (type 2), obesity (that belly fat again) and infertility in women.

So why do we have trans fats in foods if they are so bad for us?

In a nutshell because they are cheap.  Like many modern foods (cereals and white sliced bread to name a few examples) trans fats came into foods to fix problems and to increase food producers profits.

Trans fats (unsaturated fat with trans-isomer fatty acid(s)) are created when liquid fats are partially hydrogenated ie: when liquid fats are turned into solids.

Pioneered by Proctor and Gamble, they first entered the western diet through Crisco in 1911 but the significance of them snowballed from the 1920s when there was a shortage of animal fats.  Suddenly, the technology of turning cheap oils into solid fats was in demand, especially since they needed less refrigeration and made cooking easier.

Roll on to recent history ... a cheap, long lasting fat, that increases the shelf life of foods and reduces the need for refrigeration and you can understand where you're most likely to find it:

  • In fast food
  • In baked goods
  • In fried goods
  • In processed food

And an additional property that I've neglected to mention is how hydrogenated fats, unlike butter also stay soft in the fridge.

Now trans fats do occur naturally in animal fats like butter and meat because of animal ruminant (farting cows) but compare the 4% found in butter to 15% found in margerines that have apparently had the trans fats removed and i know which one I'll be sticking with.

So after all the facts and figures have been 'ruminated' what do we do?

Well I'm not going to go suggesting that you freak out in the supermarkets searching food labels for palm oil or soya (cheap oils) but there are some obvious and simple measures you can take:

  1. EAT FRESH FOODS THAT DON'T HAVE LABELS - meat, fish, veggies, fruits (but you know this)
  2. COOK FROM FRESH WHEREVER POSSIBLE - whether it's a nutritious casserole or the occasional cake, if you make it you know what's in it
  5. KEEP UP WITH YOUR GOOD OILS - avocados, oily fish and fish oils are your friends
  6. EXERCISE - the only way to get rid of fat around your organs

Yesterday a government spokes person responded to the NICE guidelines by saying, "eat better and exercise more."  I hope I've gone some way to expand on those 'pearls of wisdom'!



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