FRENCH fries, doughnuts, processed cakes, pastries, biscuits and deep-fried foods—there is no argument that these go-to goodies are certified palate pleasers. Comfort food, if you may, to many of us.
Apart from being foods that we should take in limited amounts, if lean and toned bodies is our thing, these goodies share one other common denominator: they contain high amounts of that dreaded ingredient—trans fat.
Trans fat, also known as trans fatty acids, is formed when hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oil in order to solidify it. Trans fat is the preferred ingredient of many snack manufacturers as it lowers production costs, is convenient to use and prolongs the shelf life of processed foods. Not to mention that they give food a desirable taste and texture.
The obvious downside to this is that trans fat is not known to be the healthiest of ingredients. Study after study has strengthened the link of trans fat intake to heart disease and stroke.
This has caused such an outrage in the United States (US) that in 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave food manufacturers three years to totally remove partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) —the manufactured form of trans fat—from their ingredients. This means that by July 2018, items being sold in the US will no longer contain PHOs.
Apart from derailing us from reaching our fitness goals, trans fat raises the level of bad cholesterol in our bodies and lowers that of good cholesterol. The possibility of heart disease, stroke and diabetes are also increased with excess consumption. Not to mention obesity and cancer. As the human body is unable to metabolize and expel trans fat, much of it is conveniently deposited in our arteries.
Grocery shelves and fast-food outlets are the most convenient ways to get your daily dose of trans fat. They abound particularly in cookies, biscuits, cakes and crisps. Some restaurants also use PHOs in their deep fryers. A word to the wise: Watch out for the term “partially hydrogenated oils” in the nutrition labels of your favorite processed food/snack.
It is currently required by the US FDA that manufacturers list down the amount of trans fat in nutrition labels. However, for amounts that are less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving, manufacturers are allowed to place “zero grams” on the label. So be wary of pigging out on a particular product only because it says zero trans fat.
In the Philippines leading consumer food products utilize trans fat. With a price-sensitive and cost-conscious market, trans fat helps manufacturers churn out cheaper, longer-lasting, but not necessarily healthier, products.
Several local products I have seen do not even have nutrition labels as it may not be required by local laws. Thus, it is hard to monitor and limit your intake of trans fat to 1 percent of your daily caloric intake as recommended by the American Heart Association. If, for instance, you consume 2,000 calories a day, at most, only 20 of those calories should come from trans fat.
As we strive to meet our fitness goals and be in the best shape of our lives, let us be aware of the dangers posed by seemingly innocuous food items. Read nutrition levels, and be conscious of what we are throwing down our pipes. Those palate pleasers may be heart stoppers. Reducing, or even eliminating, trans fat from our diets will be a step in the right direction.