We have a trans problem....

If you weren't triggered by the title, then you probably knew I was referring to trans fats. 

Trans fats are a VERY new addition to the human diet. What are trans fats? They are a type of saturated fat that contains one or more double bonds in trans geometric configuration. They came about with the implementation of industrial agriculture companies manufacturing vegetable oils, which are a by-product of mainly soybeans and canola production. But also includes peanuts, safflower, sunflower, cotton and corn. At the turn of the century, hydrogenation (turning liquid into solid) was invented. This was a cheap way to increase shelf life of oils. Which in turn increased profits.  This came at a cost of making the oil 15-20% pure trans fat!

During this time, was also when vegetable oils were beginning to be deemed as "healthy" alternatives to animal based fats, such as butter, lard and cream. This myth is one that we that we are STILL trying to shake today. This false societal demonization of fatty foods, that we had been eating for thousands of years, has potential caused the death of millions over the past century.

But why are trans fats "bad." There are trace amounts of them in some natural products, such as raw dairy and free range meats. But at the levels we ingest today, our bodies don't know what to do with it! When trans fats are eaten, they hang around in the blood stream, harden arteries, wreak havoc on your brain, cause inflammation, increases insulin resistance, and a host of other problems. It is a full on scientific conclusion that trans fats have no place in our diets.  With all of these negatives, I can see why over the past 4 decades it was easy to blame ALL fat for the diseases trans fat (along with processed sugar) were causing.

Now i'm aware that most people today, especially health conscious ones, already know that trans fats are terrible for your health. I can remember when I was in high school, all of the news outlets warning people, as they should, that many popular restaurants, such as Mcdonalds, were switching to canola oil, or other alternative cooking oils, to reduce or rid their food of dangerous trans fats. Shortly after this, "zero trans fat" became a marketing ploy by food companies. You would think after the spreading of this information would mean that we would get rid of trans fats off of store shelves, and in restaurants. Nope! In 2015, the FDA finally deemed hydrogenated oils as dangerous, and are making all companies who manufacture these products (margarine, crisco, velveeta, shortening etc.) find alternative ingredients.......by 2018. This announcement was NOT well publicized, and is one of MANY disgraceful, blatant decisions by the FDA to protect multi billion dollar companies profits. Give them 3 more years to sell you poison. 

Unfortunately this legislation will not rid of us of trans fats. Most people, including myself, have still been unknowingly ingesting trans fats. This unseen, potentially deadly, conclusion is the reason I am writing this. We still have a major problem with vegetable oil(soybean, cottonseed, canola, corn, and peanut oil), and also pasteurized dairy products. These still contain trans fats! This is due to the way they are processed. These products can do just as much damage to your body as hydrogenated oils. The amount of trans fats in most of these products are low enough that food companies do not have to list it in the nutrition facts. It's nearly impossible to find sauces, dressing, packaged snacks etc. that do not contain these problematic substances. Also, pretty much all restaurants use them for cooking, and as butter substitutes. Another problem is when products, meant for a long shelf life, are manufactured and stored, the oils can become rancid. Rancid fats are extremely toxic, and can cause just as much harm to the body as trans fats. 

This hidden world of potentially harmful substances being ingested unknowingly can be a problem for people trying a ketogenic diets, especially with our western food options. Ketogenic diets are HIGH in fat. It's difficult to ensure that they consist of all healthy fats. It's already hard enough to find meals at restaurants that aren't a carb based dish, let alone one that was not cooked in vegetable oil, or contain greens that have margarine slathered all over them. But can you blame them? Restaurants (even so called "high end") are there to make money, and vegetable oil is cheap.

So in conclusion, our best strategy to avoid these damaging substances is to know our ingredients, eat out sparingly, and do your research. Another key point to draw from all of this is that REAL food is not cheap. And companies, in their desperation to be competitive, will do anything to win your dollars. Even products labeled "healthy" are not to be trusted. I recently learned that many brands of my favorite "healthy" fat, olive oil, have been cutting their products with vegetable oil. Scary. At the end of the day we have to be knowledgeable as consumers, vote with our dollars, and be willing to spend what it takes to get real food on our shelves, for the health and well being of everybody.

Rachel Franck