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Say “No” To Trans Fats

We have known for a long time that trans fats are bad for your waistline and your heart, but trans fats could also be affecting your anger management, according to a study from the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine.

Researchers there assessed the behavior of 945 men and women to figure out the connection, if any, between dietary trans fats and feelings of aggression or irritability. Indeed, they found trans fats can lead to raging tempers!

The study, published online in the journal PLoS ONE, is the first to link trans fats and bad behavior toward others. “We found that greater trans fatty acids were significantly associated with greater aggression, and were more consistently predictive of aggression and irritability, across the measures tested, than the other known aggression predictors that were assessed,” said Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, an associate professor at the UC San Diego Department of Medicine who led the study, in a UCSD press release.

What Are Trans Fats?

While trans fats exist naturally in relatively small amounts in certain animal-based foods like meat and whole milk, the source of trans fats in most foods is liquid oils that have been turned into solids like hard margarine and shortening through a process called “hydrogenation”. Under certain conditions, sending hydrogen through oil can cause the oils to change in thickness and saturation and even become solids (think margarine or Crisco). This can give foods a certain taste and texture and it can increase the shelf life of processed food. This is a man-made, artificial “fat” that the body is not well equipped to break down, utilize, or eliminate.

Trans fats are often found in processed foods. Trans fats are commonly found in fried foods, store-bought salad dressings, pie crusts, muffins, chips, baked goods and more.

Trans Fats Are Bad For Health, Including Mental Health

A Marchthe  1993 paper in the journal The Lancet at Harvard University from the Nurses’ Health Study found an increase in coronary heart disease related to the intake of trans fat. This was after years of the American Heart Association demonizing the saturated fat from butter and hailing margarine as a “heart healthy” substitute!

Trans fat is linked to heart disease. This kind of fat has been shown to raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol—which can increase the risk of heart problems and even type-2 diabetes. Trans fat builds up plaque in arteries, which could eventually lead to heart attack. A 2014 study also suggested that eating a lot of trans fat could be linked to memory issues. In 2013, the FDA determined that hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils do not meet their distinction of “generally recognized as safe” for human consumption.

A Spanish study that looked at more than 12,000 people revealed a 48% increase in rates of depression in people who had higher levels of trans fats in their blood. It seems these unhealthy fats can increase inflammation in the brain, which is directly linked to depression. Studies have also shown that high levels of trans fats may reduce serotonin production in the brain, leading to depression as well as adversely affecting memory.

Our brains rely on natural fats to create and maintain cell membranes and carry fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. But trans fats can cause cellular destruction, wreak havoc on hormone production, adversely affect memory and increase inflammation in the brain.

Since brain tissue is made mostly of fat, it makes sense that better-quality fat makes a better brain. In light of this research, the years of hydrogenated peanut butter and trans fat-laden snack foods may be coming to a well-deserved end.

Man-made trans fats do not behave as natural fats do in the body. Trans fats can lead to serious health complications including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, low birth rate, obesity and immune dysfunction. They also have serious consequences on brain health.

How Can We Avoid Trans Fats?

One recent March report found that 37% of foods in grocery stores may contain trans fat. Food companies are currently allowed to say they have zero trans fat, and label the product as such if they contain less than 0.5 grams per serving. Many experts say trans fats are unsafe even at that level. The good news is the FDA says that between 2003 to 2012 trans fat consumption has declined by about 78%.

In 2003 Denmark began leading the way with legislation that limited trans fats in the country’s food. Their law did not ban the substance, but it did force manufacturers to limit its use—any food could only have up to 2 percent of its fat made of trans fat, substantially shrinking the presence. Later, Austria, Switzerland, Iceland, and Sweden followed suit. And parts of the U.S., including New York City and California, independently took action in recent years to pass legislative limits on trans fat in the food served in restaurants.

Eliminate trans fats from your diet by checking labels and avoiding processed and fried foods that you do not prepare yourself. Also, avoid foods whose ingredient lists include hydrogenated vegetable oil or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Instead, consume healthy natural fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts, and butter which are better for your body and brain health. Eat more whole, real food, and less packaged food!

Processed foods like baked and frozen products are most likely to contain trans fat. According to the FDA, here are some foods that commonly contain it:

  • crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies and other baked goods
  • snack foods like microwave popcorn, potato chips, and corn chips
  • coffee creamers
  • refrigerated dough products like biscuits and cinnamon rolls
  • ready-to-use frostings
  • margarine and shortening

Fats That Are Good For You and Your Brain:

  • Monounsaturated Fats: These fats can be found in olive oil, sesame oil, peanuts, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Consumption can lower your risk of stroke and heart disease. Inversely to trans fats, monounsaturated fats lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol while maintaining your levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.
  • Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s): Omega 3 and Omega 6. Omega 3’s are found in nuts and seeds, grass-fed animal meat and free range chicken eggs. Omega 6 is found in flaxseed, chia, green leaves, walnuts, many fish oils, grass-fed animal meats, oysters, and shrimp. Essential fatty acids assist with brain and nerve tissue development, reduce inflammation, regulate mood and strengthen the immune system. It is important to ensure that you are getting EFA’s in your diet, as your body cannot produce them by itself. While Omega 6 fatty acids are necessary, they are more plentiful in the Western Diet than Omega 3’s. Special attention should be paid to consuming Omega 3 fatty acids and Omega 6 fatty acids in a ratio of 1:1 to 1:4. Omega 6 fatty acids have an inflammatory effect while Omega 3’s have an anti-inflammatory effect. Vegetable oils, whether hydrogenated or not, tend to be high in Omega 6’s and low in Omega 3’s.
  • Natural Saturated Fats: These include coconut and palm oils, egg yolks, butter, and cream. Saturated fats have been incorrectly blamed for many health problems caused by trans fats.

For the sake of your heart and your mood, say “No” to trans fats!

 

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