You've been hearing about trans fats for a while now. They're evil! Deadly! Hidden in your favourite foods, just waiting to give you a heart attack. Run!
Most of the trans fatty acids we eat come from the industrial process of partial hydrogenation of plant oils. These apparently increase the risk of heart disease and serve no beneficial purpose in the human diet.
Naturally occurring trans fats, on the other hand, in meats and dairy products have been shown to have health benefits.
The big fat controversy, from a certain point of view, is a red herring. Suddenly companies like KFC and Frito- Lay, whose products are undeniably, 100 per cent nothing but pure junk food, are boasting that they are 100-per-cent trans-fat-free. And I'm thinking okay, but does that make these products any better for you?
Trans-fat-free does not mean free of fat, and over-consumption of these foods will make you obese and probably kill you just as dead whether they contain trans fats or not.
P.S.- some say trans fats' detrimental effects have not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
What the experts say
"Companies like KFC are getting publicity over statements that they're going to remove trans fat, which obscures the question of whether Kentucky Fried Chicken is a good choice. Should trans fats be taken out? Yes. Does that make it a superior food choice over fresh greens? No, of course not. There are studies that document increasing risk of heart disease associated with trans fat intake. Hydrogenation is something not found in nature. We should look to governments to deal with trans fats in the same way we'd like them to deal with pesticides in our foods."
VALERIE TARASUK, department of nutritional sciences, faculty of medicine, U of T
"Trans fats' effects on circulating levels of cholesterol have been used to suggest that they may increase the risk of heart disease. However, there are no large randomized controlled trials showing that trans fats increase the risk of heart disease or death. Trans fats are nevertheless being removed because it's accepted that they offer no benefits. Perhaps the responsible industry does not like to see its products 'tainted' with a bad image."
RUDOLPH A. RIEMERSMA, professor of cardiac biochemistry, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and University of Tromsø, Norway
"The trans fat debate got completely overblown because people interpret things in a simplistic way. They may think all fat is now good because that bad stuff is gone. Trans fat isn't that bad. It really is only marginally different from saturated fat. The danger is that people will say, 'Boy, these potato chips are really good because they don't have trans fat,' but the point is 70 per cent of the calories still come from fat. You still need to balance out and decrease your fat intake."
HARVEY ANDERSON, department of nutritional sciences, faculty of medicine, U of T
"The question is, what's the long-term impact of trans fat? No one really knows. The epidemiologic studies are all garbage. The statistics are very weak and the data very bad. Heart disease is a very common event, and epidemiology is a poor tool for trying to identify that kind of risk. Epidemiology only works when you are trying to find an extremely high risk of a very rare event. I think the researchers who cooked up this scare have committed scientific fraud. Thirty years ago the big dietary bogeyman was saturated fat, and that scared people away from butter toward trans fats and margarine. I have full confidence that 30 years from now they'll say trans fats aren't so bad."
STEVEN MILLOY, publisher, junkscience.com, Maryland
"Naturally occurring trans fats known as conjugated linoleic acids, found in dairy products (i.e., cheese, milk and yogurt) and beef fat, have been shown to have anti-cancer properties that inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells in animal studies. Beef and milk should be included in a balanced, healthy diet. Although the evidence is not yet conclusive, they may protect women against breast cancer. It is my opinion that reducing trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils is a healthy choice that will help reduce the risk of heart disease. The public should not conclude that simply avoiding them will miraculously prevent heart disease. This is only part of the solution."
DAVID W.L. MA, assistant professor, department of nutritional sciences, faculty of medicine, U of T