All fats are not necessarily harmful. Some fats are vital for human well being. Cooking oils and solid fats together are referred to as ‘fats' (Source: Dietary Guidelines, NIN). They can be classified as saturated fats and unsaturated fats. The difference between good and bad fat is in their biochemical structure. Physically, most of the saturated fats tend to remain solid at the room temperature and unsaturated fats stay in a liquid state. Mono Unsaturated Fats (MUFA) and Poly Unsaturated fats (PUFA) have been classified as “Good Fats” as they have proven health benefits. And saturated fats trans fats are known as “Bad Fats” as they are associated with major health concerns including cardiovascular diseases. Omega-3 fats (a type of PUFA) are relatively healthier than other types of PUFAs and MUFAs. FSSAI, the food regulatory body of India has taken an initiative to eliminate trans fats from the food industry by 2022. WHO also has launched a program by the name of "Replace" to eliminate industrially produced trans fat from national food supplies, with the goal of global elimination by 2023.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) or the naturally occurring trans fats
Some trans fats occur naturally. They are derived from ruminants and thus they occur in dairy and some meat products. This includes beef, lamb and goat meat, and butterfat. CLA is marketed as a dietary supplement for its anti-cancer properties and is also used by bodybuilders. This does not mean that they could be consumed freely as CLAs are also known to cause internal inflammation which is interlinked with a lot of health ailments.
The table below summarizes the sources of different type of fats, their origin, and impact on health:
* Note- Omega-3 fats are of three types- A) Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); B) Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); & C) Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA & DHA come mainly from fish. ALA is found in oilseeds and nuts (especially walnuts& flaxseed, oils like sunflower, canola & soya bean. ALA is assimilated by the body for energy and its conversion by the body into EPA and DHA is limited.
How to Keep Trans Fats at Bay
The following checklist is a sure help for consumers who want to avoid trans fats in their daily food consumption:
- Read the food label carefully.
- Check the ingredient list. Do not purchase a food product that has hydrogenated fats in them.
- Check for the trans-fat-free logo on the food label. FSSAI has launched an initiative through which consumers can identify trans-fat-free food items. However, for food manufacturers, this is voluntary participation. On the other hand, a trans-fat-free logo can be displayed by sweet shops/ bakeries/ local food outlets that prepare food items without trans fats or have preparations that have less than 0.2 g of trans fats per 100 g/ 100 ml of the food.
- Choose liquid vegetable oils over solid fat for preparing food items.
- Limit the consumption of commercially prepared baked foods like biscuits cookies, pies, snacks, etc. Choose food from a trans-fat-free food outlet.
- Limit the consumption of deep-fried foods as many restaurants use partially hydrogenated oils. Choose food from a trans-fat-free food outlet.
- Food labels in India could be labeled as “trans-fat-free”, only if they have 0.2 g of trans fats per 100 g/ 100 ml of the food item. Trans-fat-free does not mean that the food does not have any amount of trans fats. Portion size must be kept in mind while consuming such food items.
BETTER TO KNOW
Repeated reheating of oil can increase the trans fats content of the oil. Because:
- Unsaturated fats are repeatedly heated
- Unstable bonds in unsaturated fats are broken after being exposed to heart an oxidation
- Stable bonds are formed turning unsaturated fats into trans fats
*Note that stir-frying increases the formation of trans fatty acids, relatively more than any other method. Deep frying at high temperature and repeated usage of cooking oil after reheating it also produce trans fats.