Nothing but the Fats - Facts, That is

Canada was the first country to introduce mandatory labelling of trans fats in foods. The latest issue of Chicken Farmer newsletter from Chicken Farmers of Canada explains what trans fats are and how they affect human health.
calendar icon 26 August 2008
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In an age where 'fat' is a new four-letter word, it is important to remember that fat is an important part of a healthy diet, as it allows the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamins A, D and E.

However, there is some significant confusion when it comes to 'trans fats'. Cities across the U.S., including New York, have banned artificial trans fats, and Canadian cities are considering this kind of approach as well.

What are Trans Fats?

Trans fats are sometimes called 'trans fatty acids'. Some trace amounts of trans fats are found naturally in dairy and ruminant meats. One of these natural trans fat is called conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA. Some research suggests that its benefits may include actually reducing the risk of certain cancers and heart disease.

Artificially created trans fats are molecularly similar to their natural cousins, but are created during the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oil, which converts the oil into semi-solids. This helps extend the expiration date and enhances the taste of some foods.

It is said that artificial trans fats can cause an increase in the risk of heart disease, partly by making arteries more rigid and inflexible, and by clogging arteries.

Canada Finds That Natural Trans Fats are Better Than Artificial Trans Fats

A study at the University of Alberta, has concluded that not all trans fats are unhealthy. Researcher Flora Wang recently discovered that a diet with enriched levels of trans vaccenic acid – a natural animal fat found in dairy and beef products – can reduce risk factors associated with heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

This is because of 'chylomicrons', fat and cholesterol formed in the small intestine following a meals with these ingredients. These chylomicrons are processed through the body very quickly. This appears to be a key to understanding how humans metabolize fats.

A review of clinical research over the past 16 years, published recently in the journal Lipid Technology, stated that natural CLA trans fat 'has no effect or may actually lower LDL cholesterol and has little effect on HDL cholesterol or triglycerides.'

Interesting fact:
Studies indicate that natural trans fats make up only a fraction of the total trans fats consumed by North Americans.

Canada's Role in Managing Trans Fat

Canada was the first country in the world to introduce mandatory labelling of trans fat. Health Canada, in conjunction with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, is working to develop recommendations and strategies for reducing trans fats in Canadian foods to the lowest levels possible.

About Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a soft, sticky material found among in the fats in our blood and our cells. Humans’ bodies use cholesterol to form cell membranes and even some hormones.

The thing is, cholesterol does not dissolve. It needs to be carried through the cells by lipoproteins. The two most notable lipoproteins are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

LDL is referred to as the 'bad' cholesterol because when too much of it is in the blood, it can deposit and stack up on arterial walls, which can harden and create problems in the flow that feeds the heart, brain and other organs.

HDL cholesterol is known as 'good' cholesterol: high levels of HDL seem to protect against heart attack, by transporting fats from the arteries to the liver. Low levels of HDL also appear to increase the risk of heart disease, with the assumption being that the lipoproteins are insufficient to be carrying the fats away.

Three Tips for Managing Cholesterol

Remember, good fats are called monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Include a small amount, 30-45 mL (2-3 tablespoons) of unsaturated fat in your diet each day. This includes oil used in cooking, salad dressings, margarine and mayonnaise. Healthy oils are canola, olive and soybean.

Use nonhydrogenated margarines that are low in saturated and trans fats. Read the label. Load up on all those colourful fruits and vegetables – they are loaded with antioxidants.

Carotenoids are responsible for the red/orange coloring found in some fruits and vegetables such as tomato products, watermelon and pink grapefruit. Vegetable and tomato juice are great alternatives when added to any lunch – just keep an eye on the sodium levels!

Flavonoids are another antioxidant. Flavonoid-containing foods help keep blood thin and flowing. These include strong flavoured foods such as garlic, onion, red wines (or red grape juice), green teas, broccoli and almonds.

August 2008
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