Trans Fats – The Good and Bad News

Transfat vs. Coconut and Tropical Oils

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration proposed measures that would pretty much wipe out artificial trans fats from the food supply, and that’s very good news.

Trans fats are so destructive to heart health that the FDA and Institute of Medicine have declared there is no safe consumption. While legislation in 2006 severely cut intake of trans fats in the U.S., they’re still present in many processed foods like microwave popcorn, frozen pizzas, frostings, coffee creamers, and margarines.

The bad news is that many food companies have replaced trans fats with tropical oils like palm oil and coconut oil.

Ironically, in the 1980s and 90s, it was health concerns over tropical oils that spurred food manufacturers to create trans fats.

Tropical oils may be as harmful as trans fats.

“Tropical oils are full of artery-damaging saturated fats. Coconut oil, for example, is 92 percent saturated fat. Like saturated animal fats such as butter and cheese, tropical oils raise LDL bad cholesterol and clog arteries with plaque, increasing the risk of a heart attack,” points out Gayl Canfield, PhD, RD, Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami, Florida.

Ironically, in the 1980s and 90s, it was health concerns over tropical oils that spurred food manufacturers to create trans fats. Trans fats are formed when chemists treat liquid oils with hydrogen, turning them solid. These human-altered fats are called partially hydrogenated fats, and trans fats make up a good portion of them.

Today, in a head-spinning turnaround from the 80s and 90s, tropical oils are often marketed as a healthy alternative to trans fats. “But nothing could be further from the truth,” asserts Jay Kenney, PhD, RD, Nutrition Research Specialist at the Pritikin Longevity Center.

In fact, he suspects that tropical oils may be even worse for artery health than trans fats.

“That’s because the saturated fat content in tropical oils is much higher than the trans fat content in partially hydrogenated fats, so it is debatable that using tropical oils instead of partially hydrogenated fats actually results in less coronary artery disease.”

Bottom line: “Don’t buy into the hype that tropical oils are a healthy alternative to trans fats,” counsels Dr. Canfield.

“When grocery shopping, always turn the product around and read the Ingredient List. Steer clear of any product that contains partially hydrogenated fats as well as tropical oils like coconut oil, palm kernel oil, or palm oil. Both trans fats and tropical oils are bad news for your heart.”


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