The worst fat in the food supply
Population is healthier in countries where trans fats are restricted
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