Trans-fatty acids lurk in many of our favorite foods. If you think these fats are just like any other, think again!

Trans-fatty acids are dangerous, and can be deadly. It’s important to know how to recognize and avoid these fats that are such a pervasive part of our food supply.

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Here are the answers to some of the most common questions about trans-fats…

What are Trans-fatty Acids? Trans-fatty acids, also called trans-fats, are created by mixing hydrogen with vegetable oil.  This process is called hydrogenation.  Hydrogenation creates a substance that is more solid than oil.  This is beneficial for food production, but a nightmare for your health.

What Makes Trans-fats So Dangerous? Trans-fat can harm your health in two ways: increasing levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) while simultaneously lowering levels of good cholesterol (HDL).  This dangerous combination is a leading risk factor in heart attacks.  Unlike regular fats that get metabolized within 18 days, trans-fats can linger in the body for almost two months!  Even small amounts of trans-fats can be harmful, leading the North Carolina Chiropractic Journal to call them poison.  They cause dangerous chemical reactions in the body and are a major contributor to heart disease.  Trans-fat has also been linked to obesity, cancer, diabetes and weakened immune systems.

The American Heart Association recommends avoiding trans-fat whenever possible because this deadly substance causes approximately 30,000 premature deaths every year. Some experts have even called trans-fats a “food-processing disaster” and have called for stricter labeling to help consumers protect themselves.

Why are Trans-fats Still in Use? From a food production point of view, trans-fats are useful.  They are more solid and longer-lasting than oils.  Many processed foods contain trans-fat because of its extended shelf life.  Trans-fat can also improve the texture of foods, making them feel firmer and less greasy.  I don’t know about you, but I would prefer not to eat poison.  I find myself declaring “They’re trying to kill us all,” every time I go grocery shopping.  Between the refined sugar and flour we learned about in a previous post and copious amounts of sodium and trans-fats in so many products, it’s pretty scary stepping into the super market.  But, that’s what we’re here for – to help you navigate the perilous depths of the grocery store isles.

Which Foods Contain Trans-fats? According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, trans-fat is most commonly found in baked goods such as snack cakes, doughnuts, cookies, pies and crackers.  It is also found in many brands of margarine.  Fried foods like potato chips and French fries contain trans-fat, as do some shortenings, salad dressings and cereals.  So, read your food labels carefully before treating yourself to those yummy snacks.

Do Trans-fats go by Other Names? Yes.  If the label says “partially hydrogenated,” you can bet the food contains trans-fatty acids.  Avoid foods with ingredients like margarine, shortening and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

How to Avoid Trans-fatty Acids – You can cut trans-fats from your diet by avoiding junk foods and fried foods.  But, also beware of seemingly healthier choices like bottled salad dressings and mayonnaise too.  Cook your foods in olive oil, or coconut oil and never purchase hard sticks of margarine.  There are plenty of margarine alternatives that promote heart health, such as products made from yogurt or healthy oils.  If you do eat fried foods on occasion, choose only those which are cooked in pure vegetable oil or olive oil.  Make your own baked goods at home when you need a sweet treat.  Store-bought cookies can be 50% trans-fat!

Now that you have the facts about trans-fatty acids, you can see why they have so many health professionals in an uproar. Don’t sacrifice your health for the sake of a longer-lasting cookie!  Take steps to get trans-fats out of your diet, and enjoy the health benefits that follow.

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