News has just come in that the FDA wants to eliminate trans fats from all foods, with the preliminary determination that they are no longer considered safe. About time that they took this step, considering so much research that points to the fact that consuming trans fats is harmful for your health. What worries me is that in India, we are far from recognizing the dangers of the fats we consume. Whether it's a samosa or a jalebi, a doughnut or a cookie, how often do you care to see what type of fat has been used.
According to one of India's leading dieticians, Dr Shikha Sharma, "The menace of trans fats is huge in India because it is cheap and India being a very price sensitive country, most manufacturers target consumers with low prices and it doesn't help that there is lax implementation of food laws."
What's worse is that many processed foods are claiming that their products are LOW IN FAT or REDUCED FAT. Let's face it, most of us are likely to grab and reach out for that bottle of mayonnaise that reads a 'low in fat' label without caring to read the fine print. After all the manufacturers can't be lying. And you're right. They are not lying. But the fact that it's 'low fat' can be pasted if the fat content is at least 25% less than what the appropriate reference food is, in other words the standard norm should be. So if you're regular mayonnaise is already high in fat, (which it is) then the lower fat avatar means little. (More: More: Read your labels - Top 10 things to look out for)
Which brings me to my original point. It's not just good enough to see the percentage of fat or total amount in a food. It's far more important to see the type of fat that's being used. So here's a quick heads up on the type of fats that exist and we consume in our daily lives.
Saturated Fats There are Saturated fats, solid at room temperature, like butter and margarine. You can also find them in milk, cheese as well as some vegetable oils. These are the bad guys, these are the guys you want to avoid as they drive up your bad cholesterol levels.
How much fat is ok, you might ask. The general theory is that it should not exceed more than 5gms for every 100gms.
Trans-Fats These can exist in anything and everything, from cakes to cookies to crackers to doughnuts to even dairy products. They are primarily use to elongate a shelf life of a product. Trans fats also occur naturally in meat. Remember that a label that says hydrogenated vegetable oil is a trans fat.
Trans fats are the worst type of fat, as they reduce your good cholesterol and shoot up your bad cholesterol and can cause heart disease and are linked to diabetes.
While many manufactures are removing trans fats from their products, sometimes they do linger in the fineprint. For example, a label can say - 'traces of trans fats' but that still may not be desirable no matter how little their quantity. Moreover, because hydrogenated oils are cheap, they are preferred in fast food chains or street food.
According to Dr Shikha Sharma, "Street food is another story where the food stall owners have very little understanding of health coupled with the temptation of making better profits by using trans fats . All in all the consumers are subjected to an onslaught of cheap , quick and convenient foods which are eroding their health."
Mono and Poly Think of the board game monopoly and you won't forget that these are the good fats. They could either be polyunsaturated fats or monounsaturated fats. They are good for you as they help lower your bad cholesterol, they can help you build tissues, and they also can help you absorb certain amount fat soluble vitamins.
Polyunsaturated fats Vegetable oils - such as corn, soybean and sunflower oils - peanut oil, oily fish, poultry and nuts and seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fat.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids Omega 3 fats are essential fats that prevent heart disease, cancer, inflammation, Alzheimer's. These are found in cold-water fish (such as salmon, mackerel and herring), ground flaxseed, flax oil and walnuts.
Monosaturated Fats They are usually liquid at room temperature and some examples of foods that are rich in monounsaturated fats are olive oil, peanut and canola oil as well as avocados, poultry, peanut butter, and many types of nuts and seeds.
Once you are familiar with your fats, you can make an informed choice from the good, bad and the ugly (read trans fats). After all it is fat that turns a chip to a crisp. It is fat that can make sure that the cookie doesn't crumble and it is fat that makes the ice cream a velvet smooth dollop.