For long you have heard a lot about causes of heart attack. About how eating foods with too much of saturated fats, not exercising, smoking- all contribute in narrowing your arteries and causing heart attack. While all this is true, studies all over the world show that it is not just the saturated fats that are to be blamed for the incidences of heart attacks, it is the hydrogenated oils or fats also called as Trans fat, sold as margarine and Vanaspati ghee that are to blame.
Why is it bad?
If Saturated fats are termed as ‘Bad’ fats then Trans Fat are the ‘Worst’ fats. This is because they are prepared completely artificially when vegetable oils (saturated fats) undergo a process of hydrogenation which converts the liquid formed oil to Trans fat which remains solid even in room temperature. This process of hydrogenation also makes it more stable with a longer shelf life (some biscuits containing Trans fat can last for years). Hydrogenated oil can also be heated repeatedly so it is widely used in preparing fast foods.
However, research is proving that though using Trans fat makes sense practically, it can wreck havoc with our bodies. These are the reasons why Trans fat are bad for you!
- Gets our body Confused- It is speculated that the very nature of Trans Fat, it’s -artificially made solid form of fats, makes it harmful for us. Saturated Fats are also not good for our body, but our body is able to deal with them when we consume them. On the other hand, because our body does not recognize Trans fat, it is not as capable of dealing with trans fat. Our body tries to use it like fatty acids and transfer it to cell membranes where it interferes with cellular reactions.
- Increases Bad Cholesterol- It is true that saturated fats increase your LDL or the badcholesterol which clogs up the arteries but Trans fat are worse because they not only increase LDL but reduces HDL which is good cholesterol required by the body.
- Risk for Heart Attack- In a study conducted in Australia, Fat biopsies of heart attack patients and healthy people were compared, the levels of trans fat in fat tissue of heart attack patients was significantly higher than healthier ones.
- Studies- In another study conducted on nurses, the nurses who consumed 4 grams of margarine, which is made from partially hydrogenated oil, everyday, were 50% more likely to suffer from heart attack than nurses who rarely consumed margarine.
According to Harvard School of Public health, for every extra 2 gram of Trans fat (Found in medium sized French fries) will increase the risk of coronary arteries by a whopping 23%.
- Other risks- There are studies which show link between Trans fat and cancers of breast and large intestine. There is also link between Trans fat and Diabetes type2 along with a direct co-relation between a diet high in Trans fat and obesity.
Why should Indians Worry?
The reason that Indians have plenty of reasons to worry about the ill effects about Trans fat is because of our changing food habits. From a country which believed in eating desi ‘ghee,’ many households have shifted to cooking in ‘Vanaspati ghee’. A study conducted by Centre for Science and Environment showed that most of trusted edible oil brands contain unhealthy levels of trans fat while the level of trans fat in some our Vanaspati ghee brand is as high as 12 times higher than which is permissible in Netherlands (which has tougher food regulations).
Penchant of Fried: We Indians are also in love with eating street junk food take Samosa, Vada pav for example. And the favorite oil for those cooking in the streets is Vanaspati ghee as they constantly fry the items in the same oil. Even restaurants often use hydrogenated oils in their dishes, for its taste and longer shelf life. With Indians frequently eating outside, we are consuming unhealthy levels of fats both saturated and Trans Fat.
Indian is definitely unhealthier!
Trans fat in Indian Food items-
- Bhatura- 9.5%
- Paratha- 7.8%
- Puri- 7.6%
While Trans fat in French fries is 6.9% which even though high is less than those in Indian items. The number significantly reduces if these items are fried in other oils.
Sweet Tooth: Indians are known to be fond of sweets and the commonly used medium for cooking in halavais is Vanaspati ghee. There is generous use of Vanaspati ghee even at home when cooking sweets along with desi ghee.
Baked Food: We can’t imagine chai without marie, can we? Most baked products like biscuits, cookies, cakes contain Trans fat. The bakery products like nankatai and khari are extremely unhealthy as they contain large amounts of trans fat.
Genetic Predisposition: Heart disease in India has grown four times in the last 40 years and WHO estimates that by 2020 close to 60 percent of cardiac patients worldwide will be Indian. They also found that average age of a heart patient in India is much lower than that in other countries. A research by Dr. Michael Miller, Director of Preventive Cardiology, Maryland University of Medical Science showed that genetic mutation in triglyceride regulation could be the probable cause. Triglycerides is a type of fat which flows in the blood which needs to be broken down, in Indians there is some malfunction which causes the triglyceride levels to be extremely high. High levels of triglycerides can cause atherosclerosis or hardening of arteries.
Thus with predisposition to heart disease and a diet rich in fats, Indians have plenty of reason to be worried about Trans fat.
These are other foods with Trans fat:
Trans fat being inexpensive with longer shelf life and giving a good texture is used in most packaged foods like
- Spreads- Those containing margarine contain Trans fat.
- Soups- Soup mix, noodles all contains Trans fat.
- Cakes, cookies- Most baked items contain Trans fat.
Labels often Lie
If you think you can keep off the Trans fat just by looking at the nutrition labels, you are wrong. This is because though FDA in India requires the companies to mention the use of Trans fat in the products, the labels are often misleading because the products with ‘zero trans fat’ may contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in its ingredients. Also they can label it as zero Trans fat because the serving size is below the requirements. However, it is better to go with a food item that says ‘No trans Fat’ label than without it.
What do we do?
- No safe limits- We must understand that Trans fat has no place in our diet and no amount of Trans fat can be consumed without risks. FDA has recommended in 2005 that the daily consumption of Trans fat should be less than 2 grams.
- Appeal for a Ban: Denmark became the first country to ban ‘Trans fat’ and even New York City banned use of ‘trans fat’ in restaurants in 2006. India needs tougher regulation to force the manufacturers of food products to curtail use of Trans food. The Vanaspati ghee manufacturers need to mention the ill effects of Vanaspati ghee on the cover.
- Stop cooking in Vanaspati Ghee: Vanaspati Ghee contains high levels of trans fat and there is no benefit which we get from trans fat. With Indians being prone to coronary disease avoiding cooking in Vanaspati ghee is essential.
- Use vegetable oils: All vegetables oils like sunflower, safflower oil, groundnut oil are better than Vanaspati ghee, however olive, canola, rapeseed oil are healthier options. Around 4-5 teaspoon of oil can be consumed everyday according to nutritionists.
- Avoid processed foods: We need to avoid processed foods especially biscuits, cookies, cakes, microwaved popcorn. Shop mostly for foods that are natural with less amount of processing.
- Read labels: Even if you cannot avoid processed foods, you need to read labels and choose the ones with least amount of Trans fat.
- Opt for healthier foods: If you focus on eating healthy by snacking on healthier options like fruits, nuts, sprouts and whole grain items you would not need to eat junk as much. Also cook at home so that you do not get the Trans fat in the ready to eat and frozen foods.
There is nothing good about trans fat, they clog your arteries, increase your risk for heart disease, raise your chances of being a diabetic and unless we stop eating junk food, the number of heart patients in our country will go on increasing.