There is rarely consensus in nutrition. But one of the few issues there is scientific consensus is that Trans fats are extremely unhealthy. Trans fats, or trans-unsaturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids, are a type of unsaturated fats that are uncommon in nature but became commonly produced industrially from vegetable fats for use in margarine, snack food, packaged baked goods and frying fast food starting in the 1950s.
Last week, United States FDA ordered food manufacturers to stop using trans fats within three years in their products. Trans fats are found in most packaged and processed foods as they are inexpensive, contribute to a longer shelf life and enhance the flavour of food. The single largest source of trans fat are partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and they lurk everywhere in our packaged snacks and namkeens – Biscuits, cakes, bhujias, chips, and vanaspati ghee (dalda). Vanaspati ghee is heavily promoted and widely used in India and most Indian restaurants use it extensively.
And then there are ‘100% trans fats free‘ food products. What exactly does it mean when food brands make this claim?
The Myth of Trans Fat Free Products
Current ‘trans fat free’ labelling in food products is misleading because FDA considers food to be trans fat free if it has less than 0.5 g trans fatty acids per labeled serving. India has a more rigorous standard. As per FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India), a product can claim to be trans fat free if it contains less than 0.2 g of trans fatty acids per serving. While this is a prudent approach given that people of Indian ethnicity have 400-500% higher cardiac risk, the enforcement, compliance and monitoring in India is significantly lax.
Center for Science and Environment (CSE) found Haldiram Aloo Bhujia and Top Ramen instant noodles’ claim to be trans fats-free to be false. As per the CSE study, a packet of Top Ramen instant noodles has 0.6 gm of trans fats; 100 gm of Haldiram Aloo Bhujia has 2.5 gm of trans fats. Though Haldiram claims its serving size is 10 gm, it is nothing but a gimmick. Consumption habit of people exceed this serving size and they end up consuming more trans fats.
Many brands put misleading information about their trans fats content on the label. Products like Lays American Style Cream & Onion claim that they have “zero” trans fats in 100 grams of their products. However, CSE study found 0.9 gm trans fats in 100 gm of the product. Similarly brands like Haldiram Aloo Bhujia, Bingo Oye Pudina chips, Top Ramen noodles claim they have “zero trans fats” per 100 gm of product. But CSE results show otherwise.
Even though artificial trans fat consumption is lower than before, it is still too high and should be reduced to zero.
Just How Bad Are Trans Fats?
Your cardiac risk increases by 80% if you switch 2% of your energy intake, from Carbohydrates (i.e for each 9 gm) with same amount of calories from Trans Fat (~ 3.8 gm of Trans Fat).
Heart Disease Risk
A study of 3,600 Indians strongly link consumption of trans fatty acids to coronary artery disease in rural and urban populations of India. Trans fats reduce your good cholesterol (HDL) and shoot up your bad cholesterol (LDL), increasing the risk of heart disease.
Verdict: Consumption of Trans Fat significantly increases the risk of heart disease.
Insulin Resistance and Type II Diabetes
However, the link between trans fats and type II diabetes is not yet clear. A study of over 80,000 women found women who consumed most amount of trans fat had 40% higher risk of diabetes. There are many studies that cannot find strong link between trans fat and diabetes. However, several animal studies over the years have found that a high trans fat diet caused insulin resistance, obesity and high blood sugar among lab animals.
Verdict: It is possible that trans fat increases the risk of Type II Diabetes and leads to insulin resistance, but the results from human studies are not convincing enough.
How to Eliminate Trans Fat from your diet
- Steer clear from packaged snacks such as Bhujia, Namkeens & Potato Chips (Kurkure, Lays) – These snacks are high in refined simple carbohydrates, calories and contain a high amount of trans fat.
- Stay away from deep fried foods that you are unsure about their frying medium.
- Avoid Instant Noodles – Not only do many include dangerous amount of lead, they contain trans fat as well.
- Eliminate Fast Food from your Diet – Most of the fast food in the world have trans fat.