What Replaces Those Trans Fats May be Almost as Bad for You

The above headline comes from the online June 10, and print June 18, 2007 issues of the US News and World Report. The article by Adam Voiland points out that the removal of trans fats from our food source may be a good thing, but we need to be aware of what may be taking it's place. The issue, according to the article is that in certain cases trans fats are being replaced by saturated fats thus negating any health benefits.

Trans fats are found primarily in foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils, whose texture and longer shelf-life make them attractive to food processors. However experts now agree that trans fats are linked to increases in the risk of heart disease and possibly the risk of sudden cardiac death and diabetes. Even the Pan American Health Organization, a regional arm of the United Nations World Health Organization, has called for the elimination of industrial trans fats from food supplies throughout the Americas in order to prevent heart attacks.

Dr. Robert Eckel, immediate past president of the American Heart Association, states, "People know trans fats are not good for them. But they do not understand that replacing them with saturated fat is not a good option."

The list of companies giving up trans fats is impressive and includes, McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbucks, Ruby Tuesday, and Frito-Lay among others. In some cases replacement fats such as canola and sunflower oils are being used. However, the article points out that many manufacturers are trying to maintain flavor by using less healthy oils such as palm oil, palm kernel oil or butter. As the article describes it, these unhealthy choices increase the intake of saturated fats well beyond the recommended amount safe for daily consumption.

The author of the article notes that many types of food and baked goods are trying to reduce trans-fats while keeping saturated fats to a minimum. In some cases, such as baked goods this is not quite as simple without a sacrifice in the flavor and texture of some common foods. Some experiments using fully hydrogenated oils (as opposed to partially hydrogenating oil previously used) have shown not to produce trans fats but may instead increase stearic acid which is a saturated fat.