Focus on Trans Fat

 

There's no doubt--carbohydrates have taken center stage in public discourse about dietary practices. You can't turn on the TV, open a newspaper or walk past the office water cooler these days without hearing a debate about this nutrient du jour. Recently, however, increasing attention is being given to an all but forgotten part of our diet. Move over, carbohydrates: fat is making a comeback in the headlines. More specifically, trans fat.

Hydrogenation is the process of heating an oil and passing hydrogen bubbles through it. The fat's density is increased, and food manufacturers use it frequently because it gives products a richer butter flavor. Saturated butter is much more expensive to use, so manufacturers reduce costs by using partially hydrogenated oils.

Studies have consistently shown that trans fat raises LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowers HDL (good) cholesterol. It contributes to clogging of the arteries and type 2 diabetes. Trans fat has also been linked to an estimated 30,000 or more premature heart disease deaths each year.

The race is now on for food manufacturers to produce foods free of trans fat

In April 2004, Kraft Foods announced the introduction of three new brands of the popular Oreo cookie containing zero grams of trans fat. Other manufactures will surely follow suit and it is likely that we will be seeing an explosion of trans fat-free (although not necessarily nutritious) products, particularly snack foods.

Conflicting as it may be, we'll always be inundated with media attention on the latest focus on nutrition. But we still need to be aware of the facts concerning our health. Coverage on fats was all the rage in the 80's, for the last decade all we've heard about is carbs. What's next? Well, there's always protein.

 



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