Wednesday, February 14, 2007

We Care About Trans-Fats

It seems surprising to me how many people don't seem to care much about trans-fats. Even reading on some crunchy blogs, even some of those people don't seem to be rabidly avoiding them like they should. In fact, it seems like the only people who avoid trans-fats like the plague are us and each of our sisters.

FYI: the process of hydrogenation leads to trans-fats, so hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils ARE trans-fats.

The dangers of trans-fats are well-documented (yeah I know, giving Google search results is sorta wishy-washy...but just take your pick). If you look at a food label, you will see lots of percentages, which are recommended daily values or allowances (RDV). However, if you look next to the entry for trans-fat, you will see no number. This is because no amount of trans-fat is necessary or healthy. Even a lot of the oft-decried substances like saturated fats and cholesterol have RDVs, because those things are necessary. For instance, cholesterol is necessary in order to build up cell membranes. Most trans-fats these days are artificial, so any more references to trans-fats heretofor refer to the artificial variant.

There is absolutely nothing good that comes from eating trans-fat, aside from the fact that you've probably just eaten a whole box of Cheez-its and are now pleasantly satisfied. Trans-fats lower the good cholesterol (HDL) and increase the bad cholesterol (LDL). Any intake of trans-fat increases risk of coronary heart disease. Trans-fats are commonly present in many snack foods (most kinds of Doritos or cookies) and lots of instant/ready-to-eat foods, possibly because they have a long shelf life.

It was slightly excruciating at first, but Harmony and I have weened ourselves completely off trans-fats. It was a sad time at first, no longer being able to eat store-bought Chex mix, most Girl Scout cookies, french fries ("French Fries, oh, French Fries" - Harmony) or Krispy Kreme donuts (It still is tempting to pick up a box of Krispy Kremes). We quickly discovered that there were no-trans-fat variants of most of the foods we enjoyed in our prior lifetimes. For example, you can always substitute butter for shortening, if you are making your own cookies. (EDIT: some sources say you cannot, but as long as they still taste like cookies to us, we don't care) Make your own fries and deep fry them in canola oil. If you can afford it, organic varieties of cheese crackers are available in the health food section (funny that grocery stores have health food sections...implying that all other sections are "unhealthy"). Recently, we have seen natural variants of Doritos, made without partially hydrogenated oils.

Which brings me to another small point. Sometimes, you will see 0 trans fats under the nutrition info, but will still see "partially hydrogenated x" among the ingredients. The observant among you will notice that apparently the only way to measure fats is in increments of 0.5g. If there is an ingredient that is present in less than 0.5g per serving, it doesn't have to be listed. So if there happens to be 0.48g of cyanide in your Campbell's soup, it's probably not listed. Yes, I know, cyanide's not a fat, but I was just illustrating a point.

Because trans-fats increase your risk of coronary heart disease, which is a silent killer, trans-fats are also silent killers. So if you eat Krispy Kremes every day and feel fine, you might be paying for it later. Of course, this is a free country and you can eat what you want (except maybe other living people and endangered species).

Out of all artificial additives, we are most Nazi about trans-fats. There are many other bad things out there, such as MSG, high fructose corn syrup, or hydrolyzed this and that. We try to avoid those too, but must admit that we have all of those things in our pantry right now. However, we have come to the conclusion that no amount of trans-fat is okay for us. EDIT: The safest way to go is always make your own food, and if buying anything pre-packaged, go for the shortest ingredient list.

If anyone has strong opinions on why we should avoid another food additive more aggressively than trans-fats, please let us know. We're always on the lookout to become healthier people.

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