The worst fat in the food sup­ply

Pop­u­la­tion is health­ier in coun­tries where trans fats are re­stricted

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - JANE E. BRODY

As strange as it may seem to some­one who is not a chemist, the move­ment of a sin­gle hy­dro­gen atom from one side of a mol­e­cule to the other can change a sim­ple, nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring food in­gre­di­ent into a deadly sub­stance.

The trans­formed in­gre­di­ent I’m speak­ing of is trans fatty acid, or trans fats as con­sumers know them, a core com­po­nent of par­tially hy­dro­genated vegetable oils. For most of my life, trans fats were prom­i­nent in all man­ner of pack­aged, bak­ery and res­tau­rant-pre­pared foods.

The de­scrip­tive “trans” refers to the fact that when a liq­uid vegetable oil like corn oil is treated to make it more solid and sta­ble at room tem­per­a­ture — as, for ex­am­ple, in pre­par­ing mar­garine — a hy­dro­gen atom moves from one side of a dou­ble chem­i­cal bond to the other so that two hy­dro­gen atoms are now op­po­site one an­other in­stead of on the same side of the dou­ble bond.

That tiny molec­u­lar shift cre­ates a sub­stance that is now well known to be a po­tent pre­cip­i­ta­tor of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, in­clud­ing heart at­tacks, strokes and sud­den car­diac deaths. Trans fats, in fact, are far more deadly than the sat­u­rated fats that heart-con­scious peo­ple have tried to limit for decades. Their dam­ag­ing ef­fects in­clude a rise in artery-clog­ging LDL choles­terol and de­cline in pro­tec­tive HDL choles­terol, dam­age to the lin­ing of ar­ter­ies, and in­flam­ma­tion, which can desta­bi­lize ar­te­rial plaque and pre­cip­i­tate a heart at­tack or stroke.

A mere 2 per cent in­crease in calo­ries from trans fats can raise the risk of coro­nary heart dis­ease by as much as 29 per cent. Sub­sti­tut­ing a healthy fat like ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil or canola oil for those con­tain­ing trans fats could pre­vent 30,000 to 100,000 pre­ma­ture deaths a year, the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion con­cluded in 2013.

Gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions have sought to min­i­mize or elim­i­nate the use of ar­ti­fi­cially pro­duced trans fats years af­ter their haz­ards were first rec­og­nized in the 1990s. Faced with hav­ing to de­clare the trans fat con­tent on food la­bels in 2006, many ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers heeded con­sumer con­cerns and re­for­mu­lated their prod­ucts to avoid par­tially hy­dro­genated oils. Next year, thanks to a ban by the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion, these oils will no longer be per­mit­ted in in­dus­try-pre­pared foods.

Michael Ja­cob­son, head of the Cen­ter for Sci­ence in the Pub­lic In­ter­est, a con­sumer ad­vo­cacy group that has long called for a

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