Did you ever ask yourself which is better to cook with: butter or margarine? And then you think it’s margarine, since it’s a vegetable source of fat, hence it's healthier. However, this is not completely true, since margarine contains high amounts of Trans fats that have been proven to have a negative effect on cholesterol levels in the blood and are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
Trans fats: what are they and where are they found?
- Trans fats are a kind of fat that are naturally present in small amounts in animal products such as in meat and dairy products. Since it's a part of our normal balanced daily diet, our body is accustomed to metabolizing it.
- Trans fat can also be produced during the manufacturing of products, during a process known as “hydrogenation” which involves changing the oil from its original liquid state into a solid. It's available in some commercially baked goods such as crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods and margarines. Hydrogenation is used because of its overall enhancement of the product quality; it increases its shelf-life and stability of oils, as well as enhances its flavour and texture and that’s why many manufacturers add it to their products. Trans fats can also be found in foods fried commercially such as doughnuts and French fries.
However, studies have shown that high amounts of Trans fat have a negative effect on health.
What is the effect of Trans fat on our health?
- Increases “bad” LDL cholesterol and decreases “good” HDL cholesterol which increases significantly the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. In comparison, saturated fat which is found in butter, ghee, meat, eggs and dairy products have an effect only on increasing LDL cholesterol, and that’s why more attention is raised on the quantity of Trans fat in food products.
- It’s associated with an increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes
- It causes redistribution of fat tissue into the Abdomen, leading to a higher belly fat.
How much Trans fat can you eat a day?
The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of Trans fats you eat to less than 1% of your total daily calories. That means if one needs 2,000 calories a day, then he shouldn’t have more than 2 grams of Trans fats a day.
However, this may prove difficult since, for example, if you consume 3 cookies then that's 2.5 g of trans fat. Or a doughnut that has 5 g of trans fat, which is already more than required, not to mention other amounts coming from dairy products and meats.
What to do?
Here are some practical tips that you can use every day to decrease your consumption of Trans fat:
- Choose natural vegetable oil such as olive oil, canola oil, corn oil, sunflower oil instead of cooking in margarine/shortening which is high in Trans fat.
- Read the ingredient list on food products and check if there’s hydrogenated vegetable oil in their content. Quantities can vary from one product to another; if it's listed in the first few ingredients then it is more likely to have more Trans fat. Try to limit the amount you eat from these products.
- When visiting restaurants, ask about the fat used for cooking, baking and frying, since many of them use “partially hydrogenated oils” which result in a high Trans fat content in the food.
- To reduce total amounts of fat, especially animal fat, in your diet, choose lean meat, chicken without skin and opt for low-fat or skimmed milk and dairy products (3 serving per day). Consume no more than 2 servings of meat per day, where each serving is 60-90 g.
In conclusion, you don't have to give up a favourite food due to the presence of fat, especially Trans fat, in order to have a healthy diet. The key is to balance your food intake so when a food you like is high in any of these cholesterol-raising components, choose foods that are low in the bad fats (fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains) at other times of the day. And of course, don't forget to couple it with exercise for a better heart health and overall health!