Trans fat is produced in the industrial process by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oil.  This process is called hydrogenation and it turns liquid oil into solid.

Hydrogenated or partial hydrogenated oil has been introduced to human diet for 100 years. However, trans fat is not a dietary requirement. It serves the purpose of making processed food more stable and has a longer shelf life.

What food has high level of trans fat?

Any food that is deep-fried or baked will contain some form of trans fat; pastries and cakes, French fries, doughnuts, cookies and biscuits, chocolates, potato chips and crackers and fried chicken.

What are the health risks?

1) Increase risk of coronary heart disease.

Trans fat increase bad cholesterol ( LDL ) and reduce good cholesterol (HDL), causing the total cholesterol level to increase significantly.

The Nurse health study of more than 120,000 nurses over a period of 14 years showed that 2% increase in calories from trans fat double the risk of heart disease. Contrast this to 15% increase in calories from saturated fat double the risk of heart disease. So, gram for gram, trans fat is more than 2 times as bad as saturated fat for cholesterol score.

2) Alzheimer’s disease

Studies reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that moderate intake of intake of trans fat increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 2-3 times.

3) Cancer

There is no study linking trans fat to increase risk in all cancers. But, a recent study found the link between prostate cancers with trans fat.

4) Obesity and diabetes

A 6-year experiment found that trans fat enhance intra-abdominal deposition of fat and insulin resistance which can lead to diabetes.

5) Infertility in women

A study done in 2007 found that 2% increase in energy from trans fat had 73% greater risk of problem with ovulation in women.

While a small amount of trans fat occurs naturally in beef or dairy food, most of the trans fat result from food processing.

How to spot trans fat in food?

1) Food labeling

Look out for “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” and “shortening” words in the ingredient listing of packaged food. See if the word is in the first 3-4 ingredients. The first ingredient in the list means it is the most in the food. So, being the top 3-4 means there is a lot of it.

2) Know the trick of food manufacturers

Sometimes, food manufacturers break up components of food. For example, coating and filling. Then put a full description of the ingredients in the coating but “hide” the filling ingredients. So, you cannot get the full picture of how much is inside.

3) Trick label

The word “ vegetable oil” normally means, “hydrogenated oil”. Don’t be fooled by “ no cholesterol containing vegetable oil”. Vegetable oil can raise the cholesterol level without containing any cholesterol inside.

4) FDA limit

The United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) permits food containing less than 0.5g to carry label proclaiming zero gram of trans fat. So, zero does not mean not containing any.

Restaurant foods do not give ingredient listing and calories count. So, it would be difficult to know. Most restaurants use the cheapest form of vegetable oil for cooking, because it  last longer. However, the general guideline of avoiding baked and deep-fried food should not go wrong.

Now you know how bad trans fat is to our body. So, do not consume more than 1% of the total calories of trans fat in your diet. Try to minimize processed food in your diet.

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