Beware of Fat…Is Saturated Fat the Answer?

Posted on Saturday, June 14th, 2008
Written by: Angela, Nutritionist

It’s time to put your guard up as saturated fats threaten an attack and make their way back into your diet.   How do you fight?  First and foremost, knowledge is your best contender.   Despite the recent entourage of new ‘reduced’ and ‘trans-fat-free’ products on the market, be warned that ‘fat-free’ may be anything but.

Trans fats are a type of mostly man-made fat that the food industry loves, but our hearts and blood vessels do not. In the late 19th century, chemists discovered that they could turn liquid vegetable oil into a solid or semi-solid by adding hydrogen atoms to the fat backbone. They did this by bubbling hydrogen gas through vegetable oil in the presence of a nickel catalyst. This was far more than a chemical curiosity. Partially hydrogenated oils don’t spoil as easily as non-hydrogenated fats. They can also withstand repeated heating without breaking down. These characteristics were attractive to food makers. Over time, partially hydrogenated oils became a mainstay in margarines, commercially baked goods, and snack foods.

The FDA once estimated that approximately 95% of prepared cookies, 100% of crackers, and 80% of frozen breakfast products contained trans fat. Now that trans fat must be listed on food labels, some companies are scrambling to remove them from their products. Many others have already succeeded in going ‘trans-fat’ free.

The shift follows the growing realization that trans fats are even worse for the heart and blood vessels than saturated fats. Truth be told, there is an uprising in the food industry resulting in a trade-off of fats.  It is true that the labels will demonstrate a reduction in trans fat, however, this is often replaced with saturated fat found in tropical oils.  Though researchers announce that tropical oil fats, such as coconut, palm kernel oil, and palm oil, are safer than previously recorded, these newly found foods, actually result in more saturated fat content than the original formula. 

Trading fats is not the answer.

Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature (butter is a good example.) They are most­ly found in animal fats, including meat and dairy products, as well as in certain tropical plant oils such as palm and coconut oils. The human body has the ability to produce sufficient saturated fat for its needs. Therefore, saturated fats are not considered essential. In fact, saturated fat should be limited as these fats can play a role in increasing cholesterol levels, which can lead to heart disease. Consumption of saturated fats has also been associated with an increased risk of obesity and certain forms of cancer. It is as important to look for ‘trans-fat free’ on the label as it is to choose foods that do not list ‘hydrogenated’ among the ingredients.

All is not lost; however.  Become aware of the healthy alternatives including ultra-low-linolenic soybean oil and high-oleic canola oil.  The healthier oils such as soybean oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil, can be found in food favorites such as: Goldfish crackers, Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars, Bear Naked All Natural Granola, and Healthy Valley Chocolate Cookie Cremes.  One of the leading distributors of trans-fat-free oil, Asoyia, indicates that today’s demand is ten-fold from last year.

Power is knowledge and knowledge is power.  Trans-fat and tropical oil based saturated fats are still fattening.  Arm yourself with the knowledge that there are healthier alternative oils available to you. Of course FRESH is best and pre-packaged or processed foods should be eaten in limited quantities.  Therefore, ‘whole’ foods, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables should top the list of healthy picks.

Categories: Nutrition

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