You’ve heard the word trans fats and you’ve probably heard they are bad for your health, but do know the whole story?
Trans fats were discovered in the 1890s, found naturally in some meats and dairy products. Scientists learned how to create these trans fats by forcing hydrogen into vegetable oil and by 1911 vegetable shortening was created and sold in grocery stores. Margarine, also trans fats, was introduced around 1940 when butter was rationed during World War II.
But why would anyone want these artificial fats?
Have you noticed when you cook or bake with butter it eventually separates, or deteriorates? Using trans fats help food maintain its shape and consistency. The process of adding hydrogen allows the vegetable oil to firm up when it hits room temperature. That’s why some boxed cookies you buy in the store stay a perfect texture even after it’s been on the shelf for a couple months!
Unfortunately it’s that same fat firming nature of trans fats that makes it a health risk. In the body, the fat will clog your arteries and potentially cause a heart attack!
In the 1990s, with the increased concerns with heart health, a number of studies with trans fats started. By 2000 the government requested companies label their trans fats that usually appear as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” “or partially hydrogenated oil” on the ingredient list.
In 2003, Denmark was the first country to ban trans fats and others followed, including New York who banned them in 2008. Restaurants and food makers have already reduced the amount of trans fats in our food supply by 73%. The FDA is now asking everyone to completely phase them out. This is not a law, and the timeline could be long, so you will still need to read your food labels to see if it’s there.
Some people are worried. What about the food I love that contains these artificial trans fats? Will I still be able to get it? The answer is yes but a substitute fat will be used so it may not be exactly the same. A lot of people were opposed to New York’s ban, especially with its famous restaurants, but nobody seemed to notice when it was done.
I personally love to bake. At one time there were concerns with the cholesterol in butter so I used shortening in my pie crust and cake frosting, along with margarine in my cookies. I was skeptical about making changes to my perfected recipes when the trans fats concerns came out, but with the increased focus on using food in its natural form, I started substituting butter. The end result was a lot of compliments on how much tastier it was. Butter definitely adds more flavor and it has the same amount of calories as margarine. Now before you picture me baking up a ton of fatty foods and gorging… I’m a foodie and I believe in a tasty treat now and then. I share what I bake so it’s not sitting around my house for me to over eat. I hope you do the same!
I hope you are as excited as I am about the FDAs decision. This is a great step in the right direction in this country’s pursuit of better health!