New website helps consumers understand natural trans fats
What are trans fats?
Trans fats are a type of fat. They are created through a process called hydrogenation.
This process occurs when hydrogen atoms are added to 'normal' unsaturated fatty acids to form a specific 'trans' configuration.
How are they created?
Trans fats are created in two ways.
The type of trans fats widely recognized as a health threat is created when hydrogenation occurs during food processing and preparation, typically under high heat and pressure.
However, trans fats also occur in nature, through hydrogenation driven by bacteria in the stomachs of ruminant animals, such as dairy and beef cattle, bison, goats and sheep.
What are 'bad' industrial trans fats and where are they found?
The bad trans fats are the industrial type.
These are becoming less common in the food supply, as many restaurants and food manufacturers now avoid trans fats. Industrial trans fats that are still found in foods are typically associated with certain prepared snacks, baked goods, margarine and fried foods.
What are 'good' natural trans fats and where are they found?
The good trans fats are the natural type. These are created through natural processes within ruminant animals and are found naturally in small amounts in the milk and meat from these animals. Dairy and beef products contain natural trans fats. So do milk and meat from other ruminant animals such as bison, goats and sheep.
What is the bottom line for my health?
Industrial trans fats should be avoided. They are known as a contributor to cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions.
Natural trans fats are not a health concern as part of a balanced diet.
Research shows that natural trans fats have antioxidant and other beneficial properties. Pre-clinical studies indicate they are not harmful at dietary levels and may have health enhancing potential. Natural trans fats are a focus of a growing body of research that is helping us understand more about this health potential.
How can I tell the difference on nutrition labels?
One of the challenges from a public awareness standpoint is that nutrition labels on food products do not distinguish between industrial and natural trans fats.
Typically, trans fats content listed on foods such as prepared snacks, baked goods, margarines and fried foods is all the industrial type. The words "hydrogenated vegetable oil" or "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" in food ingredients are a common indicator of industrial trans fats.
By contrast, any small amount of trans fats content listed on natural milk and meat products from ruminant animals is the natural type.
Will the nutrition information on trans fats improve?
There is inconsistency internationally with how trans fats information is presented on nutrition labels – including which types of natural trans fats are included in the calculation and which are not.
There is increasing consensus among the leading scientists that food labels and other sources of information on trans fats should clearly distinguish between industrial and natural trans fats.
The new website, www.naturaltransfats.ca, is aimed at helping consumers and others to understand this distinction.
I have heard about CLA. Is this what we mean by natural trans fats?
The short answer is yes – conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a big focus of the natural trans fats story. However, one very important thing to recognize off the top is that while there are natural forms of CLA found in food from ruminant animals, there are also manmade, synthetic forms of CLA that are common in nutraceutical supplements. These two types are very different and it is only the natural CLA found in foods that has been studied in the natural trans fats research effort that has uncovered health-enhancing potential.
Also, natural CLA is only part of the natural trans fats story. While natural CLA has been a major focus of the research to date on natural trans fats, more recently there has also been increasing research focus and understanding of trans vaccenic acid (TVA), another form of natural trans fats.
Natural CLA and natural TVA are both found in milk and meat from ruminant animals. Combined, they make-up virtually all the natural trans fats in the food supply. The findings that natural trans fats are not harmful and may have health enhancing potential are related to both of these forms.
In North America and certain other jurisdictions, natural CLA has not been included in the trans fat calculation on nutrition labels. However, natural TVA has been included in this calculation. This is an example of where the leading researchers would like to see all natural trans fats clearly distinguished from artificial trans fats in nutrition information.
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