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Trans fats: Labeled but Lurking

Is one trans fat, CLC, better than the others?

by J. Strax

transfats in baked goods can be invisible

PSA Rising September 9, 2003; updated April 20, 2006. You've probably heard by now: beware trans fatty acids. In dietary guidelines last year the U.S. government warned citizens to consume as little trans fat as possible. New labeling regulations for foods came into force this year (2006) and total trans fats must now be listed on food labels. However, many processed foods high in trans fats remain unlabelled and some labels have been found to under-report the level of trans fats in the product.

As one who was raised in W. W. II on British national margarine ("axle grease") -- and preferred it to butter -- I guess trans fats are solidly packed into my body, part of the inner lethal weapon that will bring me down. I was interested to learn a couple fo year ago that the "chemical recipe" for a trans fatty acid, according to Brian Olshansky, M.D., a cardiologist and University of Iowa Health Care professor of internal medicine, "involves putting hydrogen atoms in the wrong place. It's like making a plastic."

"The problem with trans fatty acids is that your body doesn't know what to do with them," Olshansky said in a press release in 2003 which we carried on this page. "Trans fatty acids may help preserve food so that it tastes good, but your body can't break them down and use them correctly," Olshansky said. "Normal fats are very supple and pliable, but the trans fatty acid is a stiff fat that can build up in the body and create havoc."

If trans fats seem to have zoomed into consumer awareness, remember, for decades food manufacturers and processors cloaked them in the kind of lingo you skip over when you're scanning a label on a package of Oreos. Trans fats are the "hydrogenated" and "partially hydrogenated" fat ingredients in cake mixes, store baked cookies, pie crusts and donuts, in chewy candies, and in supermarket peanut butter. Hydrogenation is the process of turning liquid vegetable oils into hardened fats -- as in classic shortening and margarine par excellence. Hydrogenation increases shelf life and saves big bucks by making it possible to store fats longer at room temperature. And it gives cakes, cookies and pie crusts a fake buttery texture and moist "mouth feel," which consumers like. Trans fats are the Twinkie of fats.

Trans fats in foods like french fries, fried chicken, and unwrapped donuts have a free pass as far as labeling goes, although large restaurant chains do practice voluntary disclosure. McDonald's, the world's largest restaurant chain, said in February, 2006 that after adopting a new testing method management discovered that its fries contain a third more trans fats than previously known and listed on the label.

As reported by MSNC, ("McDonald's french fries just got fatter") "a portion of large fries is eight grams, up from six, with total fat increasing to 30 grams from 25.

And now it turns out that fast food at McDonald's franchises varies by country. As Free Republic picked up from AP Yahoo News:

Fast food from McDonald's is healthiest in Denmark and worst in the United States, a Danish study comparing levels of the deadliest kind of fat, trans fatty acids, showed.

The study, conducted by researchers at Gentofte University Hospital in Denmark and published in this week's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, compared meals bought at McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken in 20 countries around the world.

A large meal of chicken nuggets and french fries at McDonald's in the United States contained 10.1 grams of trans fatty acids, while the same meal in France contained 5.9 grams and just 0.33 grams in Denmark, Steen Stender, who headed the research project, told AFP.

"Many people think that wherever you go in the world you get the same thing at McDonald's, but in fact that is not the case," Stender told AFP.

The low Danish levels are the result of low-fat legislation introduced in 2004. Under the new law, no more than two percent of fats in foods sold to customers can be industrially-produced trans fats. Food producers violating the law risk two years in prison.

Trans fats are harmful in tiny quantities. Trans fats can clog linings of blood vessels and surfaces in the brain. Trans fatty acids are linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and even to sudden cardiac death.

Prostate cancer is not on this list. Is this one food worry that men who are primarily concerned about prostate cancer can shrug off? No. Mark Moyad, a University of Michigan specialist in nutrition for men with prostate cancer prostate cancer, says prostate cancer patients should follow advice for a healthy heart.

Hormonal suppression for prostate cancer may elevate cardiovascular risk. Researchers in London, UK report that loss of androgens in men leads to stiffer arteries and elevated insulin level.

Heart disease is of course the number one cause of death. Mark Moyad says: "The number one or number two cause of death in prostate cancer patients is also cardiovascular disease." Keeping this in mind, Moyad says, does not "belittle the impact of prostate cancer," it helps men and their doctors to remember that "the ultimate goal of healthy lifestyle recommendations is to reduce the burden of both of these major causes of death, especially after definitive prostate therapy. Patients need to be encouraged to know their cholesterol levels and other cardiovascular markers including blood pressure, as well as being aware of their prostate-specific antigen values."

Moyad says: "Patients should not smoke, they should reduce their intake of saturated and trans fats, increase their consumption of a diversity of fruit and vegetables, consume moderate quantities of dietary soy or flaxseed, increase their consumption of fish or fish oils and other omega-3 fatty acids, as well as maintaining a healthy weight, getting at least 30 min/day of physical activity, and lifting weights several times a week." What is good for the heart, he says, is "generally found to be healthy for the prostate."

Is any trans fatty acid good?

"I'm recommending to my patients not to eat products with trans fatty acids and to keep away from processed foods and fast foods until they improve,", Olshansky said.

Go for what's fresh instead, he said, citing a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed eating fresh food can lower your cholesterol as much as taking a statin medication.

"Good" fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including olive, canola and peanut oils. They should be stored in a cool dark place to keep them from going rancid. You can also supplement your diet with omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, nuts and some grains.

To make things more complex, some scientists and health advocates say that some naturally occurring trans fats, found in the meat and especially the milk of ruminant animals and in some plant oils are actually healthy. In grass-eating animals, these trans fats are formed as a normal part of the digestive processes by bio-hydrogenation of dietary fatty acids by microbial enzymes in the rumen.

Olshansky says one good trans fat is CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). CLA actually improves the immune system and reduces the risk of cancer. Most of the reported evidence for anti-cancer benefits of CLA is about colon cancer. Recent research puts the brakes on enthusiasm. A team of researchers in Aberdeen, writing in 2004, said: "Recent reports, albeit in the minority, that CLAs, particularly the trans-10, cis-12 isomer, can elicit pro-carcinogenic effects in animal models of colon and prostate cancer and can increase prostaglandin production in cells . . . warrant further investigation and critical evaluation in relation to the many published anti-cancer and anti-prostaglandin effects of CLAs."

Posted September 9, 2003 by J. Strax. Updated and re-edited April 20, 2006. Sources: University of Iowa Health Center; Mark Moyad; PUBMED.


References

Prog Lipid Res. 2004 Nov;43(6):553-87. Conjugated linoleic acids: are they beneficial or detrimental to health? Wahle KW, Heys SD, Rotondo D. School of Life Sciences, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK

J. Nutr. 136(4):893898 (2006). Trans-10,cis-12, not cis-9,trans-11, conjugated linoleic acid inhibits G1-S progression in HT-29 human colon cancer cells. Cho HJ, et al.

Carcinogenesis. 2004 Jul;25(7):1185-91. Conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs) decrease prostate cancer cell proliferation: different molecular mechanisms for cis-9, trans-11 and trans-10, cis-12 isomers. Occhoa JJ et al. Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology, Department of Physiology, University of Granada, C/Ramon y Cajal 4, 18071, Granada, Spain.

Fatty Acids ... The Lipid Library

Analysis of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) The Lipid Library

Curr Opin Urol. 2003 Mar;13(2):137-45. The use of complementary/preventive medicine to prevent prostate cancer recurrence/progression following definitive therapy: part I--lifestyle changes. Moyad MA. Department of Urology, University of Michigan Medical Center, 1500 East Medical Center Drive, Ann Arbor, MI

Clin Sci (Lond). 2003 Feb;104(2):195-201. Testosterone suppression in men with prostate cancer leads to an increase in arterial stiffness and hyperinsulinaemia. Dockery F, Bulpitt CJ, Agarwal S, Donaldson M, Rajkumar C. Section of Geriatric Medicine, Imperial College Faculty of Medicine, Hammersmith Hospital, London W12 0NN, UK.

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