Modern Lifestyles and Trans Fatty Acids
One of the biggest challenges we humans are facing these days is related to the foods that we eat. Right from genetic modification to the chemical content of the foods the more we digress from the natural, the bigger are the hazards that we face in the form of lifestyle diseases. One of the main culprits accused for producing several lifestyle ailments like heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, obesity and a horde of others are the trans fatty acids. Let us now observe some of the realities of this much talked about food stabilizer.
Origin of Trans Fatty Acids:
When the saturated fats were proven to be bad for health the food industry started looking for a better alternatives, which came from unsaturated fats. But, the unsaturated fats were not very stable and tended to turn bad at room temperature. So, a new process of hydrogenation was developed. This turned the unsaturated fats into stable, solid fats. Trans fatty acids are a result of the process of hydrogenation of the unsaturated fatty acids.
Unfortunately, these new type of fatty acids were later found to be extremely damaging to the human system.
Trans fatty acids occur naturally also in the products from cud-chewing animals, although in very small quantities. Bacteria in the stomachs of animals like beef and dairy cattle produce hydrogen, which breaks down some natural fats into trans fatty acids. Since, meat from these animals form a major part of Western diets, this too may be harmful in the long run.
Damages caused by Trans Fatty Acids:
- Trans fatty acids damage the cell membrane and affect the cells’ capability of nutrition intake.
- Trans fatty acids raise the levels of nasty LDL cholesterol.
- Trans fatty acids also lower the good HDL cholesterol levels, thus further elevating the risk of chronic heart diseases.
- Trans fatty acids increase the lipoprotein levels, again affecting the nutrition absorption causing imbalance in the system.
- Trans fatty acids hamper the normal metabolism and disrupt the distribution of Omega-3 fats, which are great for health.
Foods Containing Trans Fatty Acids:
Processed carbohydrates like crackers, cookies, croissants, potato chips, corn chips, french fries, cakes, pancake mixes, waffles, doughnuts, partly cooked foods like meat and vegetable dishes, margarine, processed butter, and any other kind of packaged, ready-to-eat foods are laden with trans fatty acids.
Why Trans Fatty Acids are used in the Food Industry:
The major reason of profuse usage of trans fatty acids in the packaged food industry is for the preservation of the food materials. Since, they are very stable form of fats they are a boon for the packaged food industry. They prolong the shelf life of the foods in which they are added. But, the very same reason, which keeps the food longer on the shelf, keeps it longer in the digestive systems also. Hence, the damage caused by them is also quite prolonged.
So, Why Does No One Object to Trans Fatty Acids Addition to Foods?
Let us not forget that the food industry is a multimillion dollar global industry. It is business that matters.
Still, the importance of packaged foods cannot be totally negated. They are life saviours in those areas of the world, where any natural or manmade disaster strikes. Hence, it is like a dual edged sword, where discretion is the only thing that can possibly save from damages.
Which Fats should be Consumed:
Fats are essential for the human system. Not all fats are bad. We shall continue this discussion in our later articles also. Here, suffice it to say that the unsaturated fats in the vegetable oils like oils from peanuts, olives, canola, sesame seeds, flax, corn, safflower, sunflower and others is good for the heart and possibly prevents cancer and other digestive disorders too. Chemicals added during the hydrogenation process are the culprit, which change the chemical constitution of the unsaturated fats.
Remember, the closer we stay to the natural stuff, the better it always is.