Trans Fat Could Impair Memory and Intellect

The Baltimore Sun (via the registration-free Sun-Sentinel) reports that trans fat could impair memory and intellect, according to studies releases at this year’s annual conference of the Society for Neuroscience. Trans fat is created when hydrogen is bubbled through liquid fats, turning them solid (which makes them easier to bake with). However, trans fat both raises your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowers your good cholesterol (HDL) — even saturated fat doesn’t affect the good cholesterol.

Fortunately, the government has mandated the inclusion of trans fat on nutrition labels by 2006. But, you can already avoid most of them today by looking out for “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” on ingredients labels. And, on top of the cholesterol issue, these findings on memory are another good reason to look out for trans fats.

Last year, Granholm fed one group of rats a diet that contained 10 percent hydrogenated coconut oil, a common trans fat. She gave another group the same diet, but replaced the coconut oil with soybean oil, which is not a trans fat.

After six weeks, the animals were tested in a series of mazes. The coconut oil group made far more errors, especially on the tests that required more mental energy.

“The trans fats made memory significantly worse,” said Granholm, who is director of the Center On Aging at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. […]

The article goes on to say that Granholm threw out all the trans fat foods in her fridge after getting her findings. And, I might do the same; but, I’m not sure if I have many trans fat foods around these days. I’ve already switched switched from margarine to butter and even the Lindt 70% Cocoa bar in my cupboard is trans fat free ;).

I’m not quite sure about my protein bars, though — most of them list “fractionated palm kernel oil” among the ingredients in the coating, but I don’t know how much of the bar’s fat goes into the coating. Maybe I’ll have to wait until 2006 for the answer to that one.

Restaurants Urged to Disclose Trans Fat

The Center for Science in the Public Interest — a Washington-based think tank which focuses on food and nutrition — is urging the FDA to require restaurants to disclose the use of trans fats. I don’t always agree with the CSPI, but I’ll concede that they may be on point this time.

In case you’re not up to speed on trans fats, they’re a type of fat (like saturated fat or monounsaturated fat) but far worse than other types of fat since they not only raise your “bad” cholesterol but they also lower your “good ” cholesterol. They’re created by the hydrogenation of liquid oils (turning them solid) and commonly used by restaurants for frying.

The FDA is requiring food labels to include trans fat by 2006, but that still doesn’t help much with restaurants. And, as much as I respect a restaurant’s artistic license to design their menu as they like, I’m not sure that artistic license outweighs the health concerns in this case.

So, I think the CSPI may be on to something here. Then again, I don’t agree with everything they have to say. One of their side-projects is TransFreeAmeria, an effort to ban trans fat entirely. And, while trans fat is undeniably unhealthy, I still believe that people should have the choice to consume whatever they like, whether bad for them or otherwise.

No Trans Fat in Peanut Butter After All

I’ve been enjoying natural peanut butter for about a year now. I first turned to it so I could avoid the trans fat in regular peanut butter.

Trans fat is created when liquid oils are turned into solids by adding hydrogen. And, food manufaturers like hydrogenated oils since they don’t separate like liquid oils. However, trans fat is also the worst kind of fat — it raises the “bad ” cholesterol while lowering the “good” cholesterol (even saturated fat leaves doesn’t affect good cholesterol).

You would think trans fat would be included on food labels, but that only goes into effect in 2006. So, in the meantime, you just have to look for “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils among the ingredients.

So, to avoid the trans fat, I went with natural peanut butter (which isn’t hydrogenized). However, I’ve learned that a study by the Agricultural Research Service — a part of the USDA — says that there’s no trans fat in peanut butter (natural or otherwise).

To see if the rumors had any validity, Sanders prepared 11 brands of peanut butter, including major store brands and “natural” brands, for analysis by a commercial laboratory. He also sent paste freshly prepared from roasted peanuts for comparison. The laboratory found no detectable trans fats in any of the samples, with a detection limit of 0.01 percent of the sample weight. […]

When I switched over, it took some time to get used to natural peanut butter; in particular, since its oil is in liquid form, the peanut butter can more easily slide off foods (such as apple slices). And, this study may be reason enough to switch back. In fact, just this weekend, I made an Elvis sandwich with regular peanut butter. And, that made for a tasty sandwich.

But, after tasting some regular peanut butter with a spoon, I realized that it didn’t quite have as much peanut taste as the natural peanut butter. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I soon realized that the sugar in the regular peanut butter may have masked some of the peanut flavor. So, I may look for some regular peanut butter next time I’m in Target, but I’m not sure if sugar-free regular peanut butter even exists ;).

Trans Fat Labeling Coming by 2006

The FDA has announced a rule that will require labeling of trans fat by 2006:

Trans fats are at least as bad as saturated fat — which is found in milk products, beef and pork — and some scientists think the trans fats are worse. Unlike any other fat, they not only raise the level of low density lipoproteins, bad cholesterol, they may also raise triglycerides and may lower the level of high density lipoproteins — good cholesterol. Last year the National Academy of Sciences said the level of trans fats in the diet should be as low as possible. Even as little as two or three grams of trans fat a day can increase the health risk. A glazed doughnut has four grams of trans fat. […]

That’s right — trans fat is even worse than saturated fat since it lowers “good cholesterol” while raising “bad cholesterol” (saturated fat “only” raises bad cholesterol).

If you’re looking for trans fat in your foods, check for partially hydrogenated ### on the label (trans fat is created when hydrogen is added to oil, solidifying it). Fortunately, many food labels will begin including trans fat prior to the January 1, 2006 deadline.

Low Fat Peanut Butter: Not as Healthy

Many people buy low-fat peanut butter in an effort to eat healthier. However, I’ve recently learned that low-fat peanut butter is created through replacing the fat with corn syrup. So, you may be getting a bit less fat, but the corn syrup is pure carbs. And since carbs don’t have the satiety of fats or protein, it’s easier to gain weight since you won’t feel as full from a given amount of food.

But, there’s no need to feel guilty about the extra fat — peanut oil is one of the good fats :). As a monounsaturated fat (just like olive oil and canola oil), it helps to lower LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and raise HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol).

Most regular peanut butter is made through hydrogenating the peanut oil (which makes the peanut oil semi-solid at room temperature). However, the hydrogenation process creates trans fats — the worst kind of fat. Trans fat tends to raise the bad cholesterol while not raising the good cholesterol (even saturated fat, which isn’t particularly good for you either, raises both the good and bad cholesterol).

In terms of peanut butter, choosing full-fat peanut butter would be a healthy decision. Or, if you’re up for it, full-fat natural peanut butter would be even more healthy (since, without the hydrogenation, it has no trans fat).