Trans Fat: What’s Lurking in Your Thin Mint Cookies.
It’s that time of year again when the Girls Scouts are out in full force. Now who can turn down a box of thin mints and break a child heart who is just trying to raise some money? This isn’t an attack on the girl scouts, but the perfect time to learn a little trick about reading labels.
My beef with Thin mints:
- I personally can’t say no to them, but that’s my issue.
- Sugar, what cholesterol is made from (yes, look it up and more on this in a later blog).
- Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable oil, Let’s talk a little about this guy for a bit.
This is code for “TRANS FAT.” What is trans fat, you say? Well, quite a few years ago we decided food needed to be able to sit on a shelf for years and endure nuclear war/a zombie apocalypse. (yes, I’ve been watching The Walking Dead) What a great idea! Sure it’s more convenient and cuts down on production costs. But it can also cut down the years you live on this earth.
Let’s talk a little about what a trans fat actually is. It is created by mixing hydrogen with vegetable oil and turning what is called a CIS bond into a Trans bond. This is called Hydrogenation. A cis bond looks kind of like this \__/ and a trans bond looks a little like this \—–\ (kind of). This is an unnatural type of bond our bodies can’t handle well. This process turns the oil into a waxy substance (think of crisco) that can be useful in cooking and lubricating heavy machinery. Now to be fair, there is a VERY small amount of natural occurring Trans fats in dairy that is an exception to the rule.
So what do Trans fats do to our bodies? Check out what the USDA has to say: “Consuming trans fat increases low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol. This risk factor contributes to the leading cause of death in the U.S. – coronary heart disease (CHD).”(1) Let’s look at WebMD: ” Trans fatty foods tantalize your taste buds, then travel through your digestive system to your arteries, where they turn to sludge.”(2) But let’s look a little further into what else Trans fats do….
If you’re into the Paleo blogosphere there is no doubt you haven’t heard of Patricia Kane’s work, Cell membrane fluidity or cell membrane signaling. Basically this means how flexible the membranes of our cells are and how well the cells of our body communicate. If you didn’t know every cell in our bodies have what’s called a phospholipid (FAT) membrane that separates it from adjacent cells. This flexibility must be maintained or we get abnormal cell signaling and receptor site function. so let’s break this down a bit…
The membrane of our cells are composed mainly of fat and a few protein structures scattered throughout the membrane in order to absorb nutrients and communicate with the body. For instance, we have insulin receptors in the membrane that when exposed to insulin allows for sugar to be absorbed. If the membrane is not as flexible as it should be, the insulin receptor will require more insulin to stimulate the absorption of sugar. This causes a need for higher levels of insulin, eventually resulting in insulin resistance and diabetes. So diabetes isn’t just caused by too much sugar, but not enough good fats as well. And keep in mind insulin receptors are just one of thousands of receptors located in our cell membranes.
We as well know that all causes of cancer have to do with a loss of cell signaling. When our cells lose the ability to communicate or respond to signaled apoptosis (signaled cell death) they live forever, multiply and we get what we call cancer. If you didn’t know our cells are programmed to only live for so long then they die and are replaced by new cells.
So what does Trans fat have to do with membrane fluidity? Remember how we change the shape from a natural Cis bond to an unnatural man made Trans bond? The Trans bonds are able to stack upon themselves much like bricks are able to stack upon one another to make a strong immovable wall. Get where we are going?
This is also a good time for me to say this is why I recommend fish oil and seafood to everyone! EPA and DHA are predominantly found in seafood and grass-fed meats. These oils allow for our membranes to be flexible, healthy, and not to mention our brains are predominantly made up of these fats. The brain is kind of a big deal. And there is NO vegan source of EPA. If you’re a vegan, I hope you pay VERY close attention to what all I have said. This is one reason vegans die of cancer, think Steve Jobs. But that’s a whole new Blog post in and of itself.
So are the Girl Scouts out to kill us all, of course not! But we do need to be aware of trans fats and how to spot them in everyday products. You must read labels! Especially on boxed foods and baked goods. Publix is VERY bad about adding this junk into its baked goods. You must look for the word Hydrogenated, Partially Hydrogenated or Fractioned. Even products labeled “Trans Fat Free” or “zero Grams Trans Fat” can still contain .5 grams. And don’t forget your pharmaceutical grade or molecularly distilled fish oil!
Main sources of Trans Fats according to the CDC:
- Margarine and Spreads
- Frozen pies
- Frozen pizzas
- Savory snacks
1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.