1. What exactly IS trans fat, anyway?
Trans fats are unsaturated fatty acids that can come from natural or industrial sources. Naturally occurring trans fats come from cows and sheep, while industrially produced or artificial trans fats are formed in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). This converts the liquid into a solid, resulting in partially hydrogenated oils.
2. Where is trans fat found?
Trans fat occurs naturally in very small amounts of animal and dairy foods, but the majority of trans fat consumed is from commercial products, says Jaclyn Reutens, a dietitian from Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants.
Many might be disappointed to hear that some favourites such as fried doughnuts, baked goods including cakes, pies, and cookies, and stick margarine and other spreads contain trans fat.
But not all hope is lost.
It is estimated that less than 10 per cent of such products on sale in Singapore contain PHOs. While baked and fried street and restaurant foods often contain industrially produced trans fat, all of these products can be made without it, says the WHO.
Tip: Even if a food item is labelled as trans fat free, it may not be so. Under labelling guidelines, if a product has less than 0.5g of trans fat per 100g, it can be labelled as trans fat free.
3. Why are trans fats bad for you?
Trans fat increases the risk of developing heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). It is also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Trans fat also raises your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels.
Approximately 540,000 deaths each year can be attributed to the intake of artificial trans fat, the WHO reported in 2018. It said that high trans fat intake increases the risk of death from any cause by 34 per cent, coronary heart disease deaths by 28 per cent, and coronary heart disease by 21 per cent.
Trans fat has no known health benefits, the organisation added.
4. If it's so bad, why do companies use it?
“Trans fats are easy to use, inexpensive to produce and last a long time,” says the AHA. They also give foods a desirable taste and texture. Many restaurants and fast-food outlets use oils with trans fats for deep frying because these oils can be used many times in commercial fryers.
PHOs are solid at room temperature and prolong the shelf life of products. They were first introduced into the food supply in the early 20th century as a replacement for butter and lard, says the WHO.
“They are not a natural part of the human diet and are fully replaceable,” they emphasise.
5. How much trans fat can you take in before it negatively affects your health?
The daily limit is one per cent of the total calories consumed in a day, says Jaclyn. The average consumption of trans fat globally was estimated to be 1.4 per cent of total energy in 2010, with a range of 0.2 to 6.5 per cent of total energy across countries, according to the WHO.
READ MORE: 25 Foods With Practically Zero Calories That Can Help You Lose Weight
6. How to reduce intake of trans fat?
Some tips from the AHA include encouraging the use of naturally occurring, unhydrogenated vegetable oils such as canola, safflower, sunflower or olive oil more often, and looking for processed foods made with unhydrogenated oil rather than partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oils or saturated fat.
Countries like the United States, Canada and Thailand have banned PHOs.
7. What are the alternatives to trans fat?
Alternatives such as butter, which has saturated fats, and other vegetable oils high in saturated fats such as palm oil or kernel oil are great substitutes, says Jaclyn.
The WHO advised that PHOs can be replaced by oils rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids such as safflower oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, and oils from fatty fish, walnuts and seeds. Oils rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids are also an alternative. These include canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil and oils from nuts and avocados.
See our top recommendations next:
Try: Naturel Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This Domestic Diva Award winner‘s got no cholesterol or trans fat, but still packed with taste. Even better, it contains a high amount of monounsaturated fats and natural antioxidants to boost your health. Available at leading supermarkets.
Try: Knife Rice Bran Cooking Oil
Also a winner in our Domestic Diva Awards, this 100 per cent pure rice bran cooking oil is free of trans fat, cholesterol and suitable for vegetarians. It contains a natural antioxidant extracted from rice grains that’s said to help fight free radicals that are known to cause cancer and cardiovascular disease. Available at leading supermarkets.