This is my favorite and least favorite topic. Favorite because it is so easy to explain, least favorite because every time I talk or write about Trans Fats, I’m reminded of all the Trans Fats I ate growing up, and that my body is, inevitably, still dealing with its effects.
First of all, what, exactly, are trans fats? Trans Fats, chemically, is any fat (oil usually) that has had hydrogen blasted into it in order to make the oil solid at room temperature. Chemically, this causes the fat to stabilize into a solid and makes it nearly impossible to be metabolized by humans or animals. Case in point:
Margarine (the poster child for trans fats) was originally manufactured to fatten turkeys back in the day. Rather soon after they began adding this to the turkey’s food, farmers began to complain that an inordinate amount of their turkey herds were dying. The farmers, realizing that the new food was the culprit, quickly discontinued using it.
The investors of this venture were seeing there profits dry up and decided to sit down and see if anything could be done to salvage their bad investment. In that meeting someone mentioned that the product looked like lard and a light bulb went off, CRISCO, the cheaper alternative to lard. Then, a few years later, someone else mentioned that CRISCO didn’t really have much food appeal, but butter sure did. Another light bulb, some butter flavor and color, and PRESTO, our nation rolled out Margarine, the cheaper alternative to butter!
Now, don’t misread me, if you have a butter addiction, it can cause you some problems. You’ll probably gain weight, put more stress on your heart and increase the amount of saturated fats you intake into your body.
However, if you have a margarine addiction (please don’t), it will cause problems ad infinitum (or close). For example, margarine triples the risk of Coronary Heart Disease. It increases total cholesterol and LDL (that’s the BAD cholesterol), and lowers HDL (you know, the good cholesterol). It has been shown to increase your risk of cancer five fold. It lowers the quality of breast milk. It decreases immune response. It decreases INSULIN response (do you know a diabetic?…). In fact, in a recent Harvard Medical Study, two groups of women ate the same amount of butter and margarine over a set time. The study found that the incidence of heart disease was 53% HIGHER for the margarine group as compared to the butter group.
Don’t be deceived!! Those butter alternates that claim to be healthy, be very careful. Many times you will find that they use “healthy” oils in the hydrogenation process and thus can claim that their product is “healthy”. Or, they’ll say that it is not hydrogenated, it is partially hydrogenated. OR fractionated! Some products will even use olive oil (a great oil) and then hydrogenate it so it is a solid at room temperature…
(For you science nuts) Every cell is surrounded by a lipid (fat) bilayer. Trans fats infiltrate your body, your cells, making your cells rigid, unable to communicate with their neighboring cells and hinders their ability to import/export food/waste.
So, let’s talk about heart cells. Your heart contracts because each heart muscle cell is stimulated by two nodes, the SA and AV nodes that send an electrical signal to each of the cells in the heart and enables the heart to work together in keeping you alive. Those signals travel along the lipid bilayer of the heart cells. Now imagine that that lipid bilayer is full of trans fats, these fats hinder the electrical conductance of the cells and suddenly you have a very common condition, fibrillation (when the heart muscles are NOT contracting together). Atrial fibrillation, not life threatening, yet a harbinger of what is to come. Ventrical fibrillation, well, they call that a heart attack.
Nerve cells. This is fun! Nerve cells are covered in (you guessed it) fat! They are called myelin sheaths. These sheaths are what insulate our nerves and cause such quick communication between our brain and the rest of our body. When that insulation begins to break down, well, let’s just say things just don’t work like they are supposed to. Example: Have you ever known anyone with multiple sclerosis? I do.
The direct definition of multiple sclerosis is: a condition of multiple hardening (basically the breaking down of the myelin sheaths around the nerve). So, what exactly does that mean? It means that there are areas of that person’s nervous system that are literally “hardening”. This causes pain, incoordination, incontinence, loss of muscle control, etc. So, hydrogenation hardens the fat, fat is what covers the nerve and this is a condition of a hardened nervous system. It makes me wonder if there is a connection. (I’ll look into it).
Oh, thought you might be interested in this as well. Margarine is only one molecule away from being PLASTIC. So don’t eat it, eat butter instead, use olive oil, eat fish and get adjusted. You’ll be healthier and happier!
P.S. Want to do a little test? I suggest you do this with a child or another friend as a science experiment. Purchase a tub of margarine or Crisco, doesn’t really matter the brand. Leave that tub with the lid off in your garage or a shaded area for a few days or weeks. Come back after a few days and note some things. First you may notice some debris, if it was windy, but what is lacking is telling. No bugs, no mold, no bacteria, no animals eating it. Why is that? Because it has no nutritional value, it is nearly plastic.