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Trans fat in daily life

With the pandemic and the resultant lock down keeping us confined to home, I think it is important for us to be conscious of what we eat and maintain good health. It is always advisable to have nutritious food, rich in fibre and protein, and less of carbohydrates and fat. Even as I say this, I know that most of us like junk food a lot more and consume it on a daily basis. I must warn you that frequent intake of junk food is harmful to our health as they are often deep fried and contain substances that lead to several diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, infertility, etc. In this blog I am going to talk about one such substance - trans fat-  that adversely affects our health, if consumed regularly for a longer period. Trans fat is available in natural form and is also industrially produced. In addition, repurposing of reused cooking oil increases the trans fat content in oil. 

All dairy products contain natural trans fat. Butter and ghee are traditionally made at home with cow’s milk, using age-old techniques without the need for adding any preservatives. Although this is not as unhealthy as artificially produced ones, it is advisable to keep a check on them as they are high in calories.

In the last few decades, most food companies and restaurant chains have switched to using artificial trans fat due to its industrial benefits. It is economically viable and is claimed to increase the taste of food and shelf life. Margarine and vanaspathi are classic examples of artificially produced trans fat[1].

Margarine is more of a raw material, the use of which emerged in the 20th century during the world war as a substitute for butter. It is used as a bread-spread and used in baking to make puffs, cakes, etc. soft. Margarine is made through hydrogenation of vegetable oils and fats resulting in high amounts of trans fat. 

Vanaspathi is hydrogenated vegetable oil that solidifies at room temperature and is much cheaper. It is highly rich in trans fat making it extremely unhealthy for human consumption. 

Some common food items that contain higher amounts of trans fat include:

Pongal - Restaurants often use large quantities of vanaspathi in the making of pongal;

Bakery items - Cakes, pastries, cookies, rusk, veg/non-veg patty, etc., where vanaspathi ghee, whipped cream and so are used;

Bhatura/paratha - made using vanaspathi;

Indian sweets - Gulab jamun, jelebi, laddoo, etc., are mostly fried in vanaspathi / reused cooking oil;

Fries - Potato, which is a rich source of carbohydrates, downsized in its nutrition when it is fried. As previously mentioned, hydrogenated oils, which contain trans-fat, are used for deep frying and tend up being used multiple times (6 grams per serving). A better choice would be baked snacks or baked potato.

Popcorn - microwaveable popcorn is full of trans fat, the real guilty party being the flavouring. Studies reveal that butter flavouring includes 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving whereas the caramel flavoured ones has up to 1.5 grams [2][3][4]. The ones with extra butter can have close to 15 grams of trans fat and for that reason it is always better to go for the conventional which involves using oil to pop the kernels. 

Snacks - the thumb rule here would be “the higher the amount of artificial flavours, the deeper it is fried, the softer the bake, the more the amount of trans fat it is likely to have”. Snacks are filled with artificial flavours and colours, and are deep fried. Snacks include chips, bhujia, murukku/chakli, sev, mixture, etc. 

Frozen pizza - the unhealthy part is the dough here, containing 0.3 grams of trans fat per serving [2][3][4]. The best solution to this is to make your own dough. Most importantly, home cooked/made pizza dough/crust doesn’t need the quality of softness as they are not stored for a longer time like the commercial frozen pizzas.

Canned food - In tinned/canned foods, trans fat is used as a preservative for longer storage.   

Breakfast bars/cereals - With the busy lives we lead today, it seems an easy solution to grab a breakfast bar as a substitute for breakfast as we consider them to be healthy. But in reality, despite being advertised as ZERO trans fats, a look at the ingredient list will prove  otherwise. To preserve it dry and for a longer period, they are prepared by mixing trans fat in dough mixtures, nut mixtures, chocolate flakes, etc. 

Milk powder and commercial cream - apart from adding flavour to coffee in no time, creamers are rich in trans-fat and can lead to accumulation of bad cholesterol, if consumed in large quantities. Toned milk or black coffee is a much better alternative. Pre-packed soft whipped cream, fresh cream and cream cheese contain trans fat and are used in bakeries to maintain texture and for longer shelf life. Cream is loaded with sugar and every cream pie/cake contains up to 3 grams of unhealthy trans fat. There is no alternative but to slowly start avoiding these cream-filled pastries. Homemade cheese and cream, which is a better choice, can be used for immediate consumption [5]

Does this mean that we should not eat any of the above? Not at all! It is alright to have these once in a while to satisfy our taste buds. At the same time, it is important to make sure that they are not made using ingredients containing trans fat. Avoid trans fat in food at all cost as it leads to several irrevocable health complications with age. 




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