Most people are eating a poison every day without giving it
a second thought. This substance can
increase belly fat (visceral fat) and consuming even small amounts (2% of total energy intake)
is consistently linked to heart disease. The research also says that
this stuff can contribute to insulin resistance,
increase risk of type 2 diabetes, increase bad cholesterol, decrease good
cholesterol, trigger systemic inflammation and adversely affect almost every
cell in your body.
What substance could be so harmful that it causes all of
these health problems and yet is so prevalent in our food supply that most
people are eating dangerous amounts every single day? This industrially
manufactured ingredient is called Trans fatty acids (TFA’s).
TFA’s are not found in nature, with the exception of some
ruminant-derived TFA’s in certain dairy products (usually contributing less
than 0.5% of total caloric intake). TFA’s come mostly from the industrial
hydrogenation of vegetable oils, which alters the natural cis configuration of
the oils to the trans configuration. If you see “partially hydrogenated” oil in
the ingredients list of any food product, then it contains TFA’s.
TFA’s have been studied for decades, but were largely
ignored until the past several years. Research papers linking trans fats to
heart disease date back to the 1970’s. In 1994, the Center for Science in the
Public Interest petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to put trans fats
on food labels (didn’t happen until 2006). Since 2006, TFA’s have thankfully
received a decent amount of publicity when they were in the news regarding new
food labeling laws and the banning of their use in restaurants in some states.
New studies have been published in the past year confirming
the dangers of TFA’s. Four recent studies indicated 24, 20, 27 and 32% higher
risk of myocardial infarction (MI) or CHD death for every 2% energy of TFA
consumption isocalorically replacing carbohydrate, SFA, cis monounsaturated
fatty acids and cis polyunsaturated fatty acids, respectively.
TFA intake in the United States still averages 2-3% of total
energy intake, 4% in some developing countries where fast food is being
introduced and as high as 8-10% in certain subgroups (who eat large amounts of
baked goods, fried foods, pastries, doughnuts, etc). The government recommended
maximum is 1% of total energy intake (2 grams!). Some experts say there is NO
safe level of TFA intake.
Legislation has been enacted in some states banning the use
of TFAs in restaurants. It was big news New
York. As of 2008, 11 cities and counties have adopted
regulations to restrict TFA use in restaurants. However, industrial TFA use is
still widespread and lots of people are still scarfing them down every day.
If Trans fats are so dangerous, why is their use so
widespread? Dietary fat expert Udo Erasmus put it this way: “TFA’s are a food
manufacturer’s dream: an unspoilable substance that lasts forever.” TFA’s are
cheap and for countless food products, they can prolong shelf life, allow easy
transport, provide solidity at room temperature (to make spreads), and increase
suitability for commercial frying.
Although most people have heard of TFA’s, the bad news is
that this increased awareness has not been enough to translate into behavior
A study recently published in the Journal of The American
Dietetic Association (ADA) found that in 2007, 73% of Americans knew that TFA’s
increased risk of heart disease, compared to 63% in 2006. However, the bad news
is that 79% of Americans could not name 3 foods that contain trans fats. 46% of
Americans could not name any sources of trans fats on their own.
“Knowledge about food sources of fats remains low” says
Robert Eckel, professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado.
Public health messages have been raising awareness, but they
haven’t been enough. “TFA’s are bad for you.” Ok, so now what? What you really
need are some simple behavior guidelines and a list of foods to eat very
infrequently if you eat them at all.
Here are some good places for you to start.
4 Ways to Avoid Trans
1. Eat mostly foods
that do not have a label. At the risk of stating the obvious, if you don’t
eat anything that comes in a box or package with a label, then you won’t ever
consume manmade TFA’s. If your diet consists primarily of fruits, fibrous
vegetables, root vegetables, beans, legumes, brown rice, unprocessed whole
grains, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish and lean meats, you’re home free.
2. Watch for label
loopholes. WARNING: Food companies are lying to you on their product labels
to make you think their foods are TFA-free. The front of their package may say
“ZERO grams of trans fats,” and yet there is hydrogenated oil listed in the
ingredients. How could that be? There is a label loophole where the government
allows companies to claim zero trans fats if there is less than a half a gram
per serving. So the food companies sneakily manipulate their serving sizes
until the servings are so small that the TFA content falls below the per
3. Read ingredients
lists. The primary source of TFA’s is partially hydrogenated vegetable
oils. In particular, soybean, sunflower, cottonseed and palm oils are
frequently hydrogenated. Your first step then, is to read food labels on any
packaged products and look at the ingredients list. If it contains partially
hydrogenated oils, it contains TFA’s.
4. Avoid foods that
contain TFA’s most of the time. TFA’s are commonly found in baked goods
(bakery), fried foods and packaged convenience foods, especially:
packaged frozen foods (breaded chicken, breaded fish, etc)
french fries (fried potatoes)
margarines and spreads
some salad dressings
some artificial cheeses
* major food sources for American adults
In 2002 when I published the first edition of my ebook, Burn
The Fat, Feed The Muscle, I warned my readers of the dangers of trans fatty
acids. I was not the only one either. Years ahead of the 2006 law requiring
trans fats to be listed on food labels and the 2007-2008 restaurant TFA bans,
numerous health professionals were already warning people to stay away from
Not enough people heeded the warnings, while meanwhile, politics
and commercial interests delayed legislation. No doubt, skyrocketing rates of
obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease can be largely linked to the
continued use of these artificial fake food additives. In the US alone, 1,700,000 new cases of
diabetes, 233,600 diabetes-related deaths, 600,000 myocardial infarctions and
451,300 coronary heart disease-related deaths are reported every year.
A campaign for better education and lifestyle change is
worth supporting. As researchers from Harvard said, “A comprehensive strategy
to eliminate the use of industrial TFA in both developed and developing
countries, including education, food labeling, and policy and legislative
initiatives, would likely prevent tens of thousands of CHD events worldwide
For a healthy and balanced lifestyle, and for better
long-term compliance, I’m rarely in favor of tagging any foods as totally
“forbidden” or to use words as strong as “poison” in describing foods. But if
there are any exceptions, trans fats are one of them.
If you are unable or unwilling to eliminate TFA’s from your
diet completely, then you would be wise for the sake of your health and your
family’s health, to keep foods containing TFA’s to a bare minimum and avoid
eating any TFA-laden foods on a daily basis.
Last, but not least, be on guard, because history tells us
that when one harmful food additive is banned, it is often replaced with
another, which is sometimes even worse. That’s why item #1 on my list of four ways
to avoid trans fatty acids is the best way to avoid anything that is harmful to your health.
About Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural (steroid-free) bodybuilder, independent nutrition researcher, freelance writer and author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle (e-book) and the #1 Amazon best-seller, The Body Fat Solution (Avery/Penguin, hardcover). Tomís articles are featured on hundreds of websites worldwide and he has been featured in IRONMAN, Australian IRONMAN, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Menís Fitness, Menís Exercise as well as on dozens of radio shows including Martha Stewart healthy living (Sirius), ESPN-1250 and WCBS. Tom is also the founder and CEO of the premier fat loss support community, the Burn The Fat Inner Circle