An old post from a previous incarnation. A quick primer on cholesterol and trans fats.
You know those “Comments” hotlines on food packages where you can tell the manufacturers what you think? Well, I called one today.
Ever since this Metafilter thread, where dejah420 educated me about the dangers of trans fats, I’ve been on another of my personal health rampages against them. (I do this about once or twice a year, cutting something nasty from my diet. A year and a half ago, it was fast food and beef, a year ago, it was my sugar binges… I’m back to eating sugar, but still off the beef.) But I digress. These trans fats are bad news, but they’re about as omnipresent in our foods as a god is supposed to be in the world. You’d be amazed where you find this stuff–cereals, bagels–even Rice-a-Roni packages.
So, I called up the fine people at Rice-A-Roni, and told them, “I’m sorry, but I can’t eat your food anymore. It has trans fats in it.” The guy on the end of the line gave some pre-written speech about the FDA not making any specific comments on trans fats (even though the Institute of Medicine’s report recommends consumption “be as low as possible.”)
I’m happy to say that the FDA is expected to force food producers to list the amount of trans fats in their products, just like saturated fats are listed today. So the guy suing to take Oreos off the shelves succeeded (even after acknowledging the lawsuit was frivolous). A victory for the little guy.
(For the time being, anything “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” most likely contains trans fats.)
And if you’re curious what the problem is, here’s some background:
You’ve got several types of cholesterol-carrying molecules in your body: the main ones are HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein). HDL is “good cholesterol.” It’s a molecule that absorbs excess cholesterol from the blood, takes it to the liver, where the liver removes it from your bloodstream. LDL is “bad cholesterol.” It can build up on arterial walls (it’s then called “plaque”) and shrink the passageway for blood. This is a major cause of heart attacks, strokes, TIAs, leg clots, etc.
HDL (you want it High) and LDL (you want it Low)
- Unsaturated fats: that’s things like fatty fish and oils, like olive oil, INCREASE your HDL (this is good) and DECREASE your LDL (this is good)
- Saturated fats: animal fats (fatty meats besides fish), butter, and tropical oils, INCREASE your HDL (this is good) but INCREASE your LDL (this is bad)
- Trans fats: think Crisco, as well as partially and fully hydrogenated plant oils, DECREASE your HDL (this is bad) and INCREASE your LDL (this is bad).
Get it? Got it? Good.