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3 Reasons Trans Fats are Bad for You

Important Points:

  • Trans fats
  • Hydrogenated fats
  • Insulin resistance
  • Heart disease
  • Inflammation

3 Reasons Trans Fats are Bad for You

I remember a couple of years back when fast food Sunday treats was the norm for most families. Then slowly, as people became more health-conscious, families began switching to healthier dining options with less processed foods on the menu. So, for those gen Ys who found fast food banned from the family menu, I will give you the 3 reasons why we made the switch. This may also help those who have probably heard that “processed fats are not good for you” without knowing the reasons behind this. Then, next time you want to pick some fried or baked foods from a random store you will take the time to find out whether unhealthy Trans fats are on the ingredient list.

What are Trans Fats?

Trans fats are a form of unsaturated fat that can be found both from natural and artificial sources. Natural trans fats are found in meat from ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats and are created naturally through digestion in the ruminant’s stomach before being passed into dairy products as well as beef and lamb cuts. For the trans fats that occur naturally, there is not much to worry about. Science has shown that these trans fats have a decent safety profile when consumed in moderate amounts by humans. The most common trans fat that occurs naturally is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is mostly found in dairy. It has been found to have some therapeutic benefits including helping in weight loss and bodybuilding. Consequently, CLA is usually marketed as a dietary supplement.

Artificial trans fats, on the other hand, may cause more harm than good. They are commonly referred to as industrial fats or partially hydrogenated fats. Artificial trans fats are derived from vegetable sources, and they are artificially altered to remain solid at room temperature so that they keep longer. Artificial trans fats can be found in fried foods such as doughnuts, and baked goods such as cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, and cookies. Science has shown that artificial trans fats have serious health risks that should dissuade you from using them.

1.   Trans fats are bad for your heart health

Artificial trans fats may increase your risk of heart disease, as some clinical studies have shown. Examples of highly concentrated artificial trans fats are Vanaspati ghee and margarine. It’s been revealed that people who consume high amounts of artificial trans fats are likely to have increased bad cholesterol amounts without a corresponding increase in good cholesterol. Other fats, on the other hand, increase both bad and good cholesterol amounts. According to CDC reports 2019, high levels of low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) may increase one’s risk for heart disease and stroke, and trans fats have also been shown to damage the inner lining of blood vessels known as the endothelium, which can lead to impairment in blood vessel function. In connection, a number of significant studies have shown that consumption of artificial trans fats are linked with the development of the cardiovascular disease.

2.   Trans Fats could Decrease Insulin Sensitivity and Predispose to Type 2 Diabetes

The relationship between Trans fats and insulin sensitivity is currently murky and further clinical research needs to be conducted to give clear direction. One study conducted by the University of Minnesota in 2006 concluded that “high intakes of trans fats may increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, inconsistencies across studies and methodological problems make it premature to draw definitive conclusions at this time. More experimental research in humans is needed to further address this question.”

Another large study showed that those who consumed the most trans fats had a 40% higher risk of diabetes. A number of animal studies have also shown a positive correlation between the consumption of artificial trans fats and insulin resistance which increases the likelihood of type 2 diabetes.

3.   Trans Fats Cause Inflammation

Inflammation is a necessary and useful response when injury or infection has occurred; however, chronic inflammation has been linked to the root cause of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and arthritis. A study published in 2002 showed a positive correlation between the consumption of a diet high in hydrogenated fat and the production of inflammatory cytokines that have been associated with atherosclerosis. Other studies have also shown that trans fats increase inflammation especially in overweight or obese people.

In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of trans fats in food preparation. They “determined that PHOs, the major source of artificial trans fat in the food supply, are no longer ‘Generally Recognized as Safe’, or GRAS.” Too many processed foods still contained unhealthy trans fats as the ban has not been implemented to date, and processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil are the richest source of trans fats in the modern diet.

How to limit your intake of unhealthy trans fats

Although natural trans fats from animal products are considered safe when taken in moderate amounts, consuming artificial trans fats regularly could jeopardize your health.  Industrial seed oil, or the standard vegetable oil in your grocery store, may contain 5% trans fat.  I personally avoid all vegetable oils and stick to saturated natural fats whenever possible.

Limit your intake of processed foods made with vegetable oil such as doughnuts, cookies, crackers, muffins, pies, and cakes. When buying food, read labels carefully and check for any partially hydrogenated items on the ingredients list.

High consumption of artificial trans fats have been linked to long-term inflammation, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease. It’s unfortunate that most of Americans are hooked on fast food which is the biggest culprit for unhealthy trans fats.

References

1.   FDA (2018): Trans Fat. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/trans-fat

2.   NCBI (2014): Trans fatty acids – A risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3955571/

3.   CDC: Cholesterol myths and facts. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/features/cholesterol-myths-facts/index.html

4.   NCBI (2007): A prospective study of trans fatty acids in erythrocytes and risk of coronary heart disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17389261

5.   NCBI (2006): Trans fatty acids, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16958313

6.   NCBI (2002): Effect of hydrogenated and saturated, relative to polyunsaturated, fat on immune and inflammatory responses of adults with moderate hypercholesterolemia. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11893781

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Lifestyle Induced Inflammation

Important Points:

  • Inflammation
  • Lifestyle change
  • Healthy diet
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Trans fats

Lifestyle Induced Inflammation

Inflammation is not entirely a bad thing. When it happens over extended periods, it can trigger diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. A number of foods that we eat have been linked to chronic low-grade inflammation, so being aware of them and eliminating them from your diet can help to improve your health and prevent disease.

5 Foods that Trigger Inflammation

1. Artificial Sugars

There are two main types of artificial sugars:

  • Table sugar – sucrose composed of 50% glucose and 50% fructose
  • High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – 45% glucose and 55% fructose.

One reason artificial sugars are harmful is that they can increase inflammation which can lead to disease. In one study, mice fed high-sucrose diets developed breast cancer that spread to their lungs, in part due to the inflammatory response to sugar. In another study, the anti-inflammatory impact of omega-3 fatty acids was impaired in mice fed a high-sugar diet.

In yet another study, people were given regular soda, diet soda, milk, or water. Of these, only those in the regular soda group had increased levels of uric acid which causes inflammation and insulin resistance. While the small amounts of fructose in fruits and vegetables are fine, getting large amounts from added sugars is a bad idea. Eating a lot of fructose has been linked to obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, fatty liver disease, cancer, and chronic kidney disease. Food high in artificial sugar includes candy, soft drinks, cakes, sweet pastries, and certain cereals.

2. Artificial Trans Fats

Artificial trans fats are made by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats, which are liquid, in order to make them solid. In a solid state they have a longer shelf life. Consequently, manufacturers often use trans fats to extend the shelf life of processed foods such as French fries and other fried fast food, margarine and vegetable shortening, packaged cakes and cookies, pastries, and all processed food with “partially hydrogenated” oils as part of the ingredients.

Artificial trans fats have been shown to cause chronic low-grade inflammation. They lower “good” HDL cholesterol levels and may cause damage to endothelial cells lining arteries which is a risk factor for heart disease.

3. Refined Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the source of energy for our cells. However, refined carbohydrates, which have most of the fiber removed, may cause inflammation by creating an environment for the growth of inflammatory microbiota. They may also cause leptin resistance and obesity.

Fiber is essential for promoting satiety and improving blood sugar control. Refined carbs have a higher glycemic index (GI) than unrefined carbs, and foods with a high glycemic index elevate blood sugar rapidly. White bread is an example of refined carbohydrates. In one study, subjects who ate 50 grams of white bread experienced higher blood sugar levels and a spike in inflammatory markers. Refined carbohydrates are found in white bread, pasta, white rice, carbonated drinks, cakes and all processed food that contains added sugar or white flour.

4. Excessive Alcohol

Moderate consumption of alcohol has been associated with cardiovascular benefits, however excessive consumption is likely to cause inflammation and trigger disease. Heavy drinking can also trigger leaky gut syndrome which is a precursor for inflammation and organ damage. Moderate alcohol consumption should not exceed two standard bottles for men and one standard bottle for women.

5. Processed Meat

Excessively processed meats have added compounds such as advanced glycation end products which are harmful to the body. They have been linked with heart disease, diabetes, stomach cancer, and colon cancer. Common types of processed meat include some sausages, bacon, ham, smoked meat, and beef jerky. Advanced glycation products are created by exposing meats to high temperatures during preparation. These products are known to increase oxidant stress and inflammation, and cause inflammation through other mechanisms as well. As a result, it is wise to minimize the consumption of processed meat.

The Bottom Line for Inflammation and Disease

Chronic low-grade inflammation is linked to a number of chronic diseases including cancer, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. These conditions further contribute to inflammation making it a vicious cycle. It is also evident that lifestyle contributes to this kind of toxic inflammation, and by altering diet and making a few lifestyle changes one can greatly minimize their chances of getting these diseases. It is not enough to just drop these unhealthy foods, but you need to replace them with healthier alternatives. Here is an article about foods that reduce inflammation (hyperlink to the article on managing inflammation with diet).

What happens if you have already been diagnosed with an inflammation-related disease? Do not panic as hope is not lost. By altering your diet, you can claim your health back. Foods that promote insulin sensitivity can help to reverse diabetes and cure obesity. You can also read our article on how to reverse diabetes with diet.

If you are at high risk for lifestyle-related disease there is no shortcut to health and longevity; you just have to take drastic measures to change your diet and lifestyle. A good place to start is by eliminating these toxic foods from your diet.

References

1.   NCBI (2010): The global diabetes epidemic as a consequence of lifestyle-induced low-grade inflammation. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19890624

2.   NCBI (2015): Differences and similarities in hepatic lipogenesis, gluconeogenesis and oxidative imbalance in mice fed diets rich in fructose or sucrose. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25905791

3.   NCBI (2014): Trans fatty acids: are its cardiovascular risks fully appreciated? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24636816

4.   NCBI (2005): Consumption of trans fatty acids is related to plasma biomarkers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15735094

5.   NCBI (2008): High-glycemic index carbohydrate increases nuclear factor-kappaB activation in mononuclear cells of young, lean healthy subjects. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18469238

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Conjugated Linoleic Acid: Is It Good for You?

Important Points:

  • Conjugated linoleic acid
  • CLA
  • Healthy fats
  • Trans fats
  • Grass-fed

Conjugated Linoleic Acid: Is It Good for You?

We have heard a lot about the unhealthy effects of fat. But did you know that some fats are actually good for your overall health and wellbeing? Conjugated linoleic is one such kind of fat, and you can read here why you need not worry about this healthy trans-fat.

What Is Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)?

CLA is a type of polyunsaturated, omega-6 fatty acid that is mostly found in the meat and milk of ruminants, such as cows, goats, and sheep. “Conjugated” has to do with the arrangement of the double bonds in the structure of the fatty acid molecule, and there are 28 different forms of CLA with the difference being in the arrangement of the double bonds.

CLA is a natural trans-fat and is not associated with the health risks that occur when one consumes high amounts of artificial trans fats such as industrial trans-fats.

CLA Is Mostly Found In Grass-Fed Animals

The total amounts of CLA found in animal meat and dairy will vary depending on what the animals are fed. Research has shown that grass-fed animals have the highest amounts of linoleic acid.

The average intake of CLA in the US is about 151 mg per day for women and 212 mg for men. Many CLA supplements have flooded the market, but unfortunately, most of them are not derived from natural sources; most are derived from vegetable sources and later chemically altered to resemble CLA. For this reason, CLA supplements may not provide the same health effects as naturally occurring CLA taken in through our diets.

Can CLA Help in Weight Loss?

Conjugated linoleic acid is not inert but has biologic activity just like other fats. Research suggests that CLA may help in weight loss through different mechanisms including:

  • Fat burning
  • Reducing food intake
  • Stimulating fat breakdown
  • Inhibiting fat production

Human studies have also shown that CLA can help to reduce body fat while increasing muscle mass, but has only shown modest effects on weight loss. Here, weight loss is most pronounced during the first six months, after which it plateaus for up to two years.

Other Health Benefits of Conjugated Linoleic Acid

If you consume a lot of CLA from foods, you are at a lower risk of various diseases, especially if cows producing your dairy products are predominantly grass-fed rather than fed grain.

CLA is also useful for:

  • Controlling high blood pressure
  • Reducing obesity
  • Improving metabolic syndrome
  • Treating symptoms of hay fever allergies
  • Improve airway sensitivity in asthma
  • Reduce risk for breast cancer
  • Improve cognitive function in elderly men
  • Relieving symptoms of non alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Reducing pain, inflammation and stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis

Many studies have suggested that people who eat the most CLA from dietary sources have improved metabolic health and a lower risk of many diseases.

Does CLA Cause Serious Side Effects?

Even though consuming small amounts of natural CLA is beneficial, high doses may trigger serious side effects. Higher than normal doses are usually found in supplements made by chemically altered linoleic acid from vegetable oils, as normal consumption of dairy or meat provides a normal dose of CLA.

Studies have shown that high amounts of supplemental CLA can cause increased accumulation of fat in your liver. In time, this will contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome and diabetes. High amounts of CLA can also trigger inflammation and fuel insulin resistance. This is unfortunate as it counters the potential health benefits that can be derived from this fatty acid.

Other side effects that are associated with high doses of conjugated linoleic acid include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Insulin resistance
  • Oxidative stress

You need to stick to the recommended daily doses of CLA to avoid these side effects especially when taking supplements. Whenever possible, stick to CLA that is directly derived from meat or dairy sources.

What Is The Appropriate Dose Of CLA?

The appropriate dose for CLA for adults is about 3.2–6.4 grams per day. One review gave an estimate of a minimum of 3 grams daily for weight loss. Doses of up to 6 grams per day can be taken without causing any serious adverse side effects.

The FDA allows CLA to be added to foods and gives it a GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status, however, you should remember to adhere to appropriate dosages as higher doses can easily trigger unwanted side effects.

In Conclusion

Conjugated linoleic acid has been used effectively to stimulate weight loss and shows potential in the treatment of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and other health conditions.

Although it doesn’t cause any serious side effects at doses up to 6 grams per day, higher doses especially from dietary supplements may cause long-term negative effects, so it would be best to consider safer alternative ways to lose fat.

References

1.      NCBI (2011): Effects of ruminant trans fatty acids on cardiovascular disease and cancer: a comprehensive review of epidemiological, clinical, and mechanistic studies. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22332075

2.      NCBI (2001): Estimation of conjugated linoleic acid intake by written dietary assessment methodologies underestimates actual intake evaluated by food duplicate methodology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11340114

3.      NCBI (2009): Antiobesity Mechanisms of Action of Conjugated Linoleic Acid. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2826589/

4.      NCBI (2007): Efficacy of conjugated linoleic acid for reducing fat mass: a meta-analysis in humans. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17490954

5.      NCBI (2010): Conjugated linoleic acid in adipose tissue and risk of myocardial infarction. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20463040