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Monday, June 29, 2020

Margarine - Part 2 - Why It's No Good For You

In another recent article I discussed the history of margarine's purely financially-motivated origins. Here, however, I'll elaborate upon exactly what it is about margarine which makes it such an insidious adversary of human health.

Let's first talk for a minute about fats, in general, so that we're all on the same page about the nature of these substances where dietary fats are concerned. There are three main types of fat; these are saturated, unsaturated and trans fats. Saturated fats come mainly from animal sources such as meat and dairy. At room temperature, saturated fats are solid. Unsaturated fats come mainly from plant sources such as olives and nuts and contain no cholesterol. They are in a liquid state (i.e., oil) at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are broken down further in monounsaturated (one double bond) and polyunsaturated (more than one double bond). But what does this mean, in reference to a "bond" found in a fat?

In saturated fats, all carbon atoms have a single bond to another carbon atom and are also bonded to hydrogen atoms. In unsaturated fats, not all carbon atoms are bound to hydrogen atoms, and instead double bonds form between carbon atoms. The arrangement of the carbon bonds largely determines the fat's properties. Contrary to popular belief, the term "saturated" doesn't refer at all to the amount fat in something, as in some food item being "saturated with fat." No, saturated refers to the state of a carbon atom as being attached to a hydrogen atom. But these atomic arrangements do make noteworthy differences in the characteristics of the various types of fats.

The villainous type of trans fat is a man-made fat, and not found in nature. It's made by taking an unsaturated fat and forcing hydrogen through it in a process called hydrogenation. If you're a label reader, as you really ought to be, you've no doubt seen terms such as partially hydrogenated soybean oil. This is an example of a man-made trans fat. As an aside, there's a certain fat called conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, which is technically considered a trans fat -- but only partly so, as it's also a "cis fatty acid," a chemical distinction which gives the compound a lower melting point than a total trans fat, along with greater stability due to the conjugation of its molecules. Furthermore, and totally unlike standard trans fats, CLA has been shown to offer some significant health benefits and is popular as a natural weight loss aid. CLA is yet even more unlike man-made trans fats in that CLA is natural in its origins, to be found in meats and dairy products. The CLA version which is commonly sold as a supplement isn't nearly as beneficial as that which can be obtained from animal sources, and the former can even be harmful if taken in large doses.  Nonetheless, since pure and natural CLA is so dissimilar in its properties to man-made trans fats, we'll exempt CLA from any condemnation, and henceforth, our target will exclusively be commercially-manufactured trans fats. Suffice it to say, a trans fat found in nature and a trans fat cooked up in factory exhibit major differences when they're introduced into the human body.

The mainstream health "authorities" have long decried the consumption of saturated fat -- while for an exceptionally long time, even the doctors among them recommended the consumption of trans fats, i.e., margarine, as a "healthy" alternative. They've even said margarine is, "better for your cholesterol," which points in the direction of yet another major controversy, that of cholesterol itself (which I'll refrain from expounding upon within the context of this article). However, for those concerned about such things, it needs to be noted that whole saturated fat increases LDL (bad) cholesterol and very slightly increases HDL (good) cholesterol, while trans fat increases LDL cholesterol -- and decreases HDL cholesterol. So in other words, trans fat doesn't do anything good at all for cholesterol, if that were actually the problem.

"The problem with trans fats is that your body doesn't know what to do with them," said Brian Olshansky, M.D., University of Iowa Health Care professor of internal medicine. Perhaps you've heard of the frequently-replicated experiment where a pat of butter is placed on the ground on a warm day somewhere near ant activity, and a pat of margarine is placed nearby. In short order, ants will predictably be crawling all over the butter, while they'll virtually ignore the margarine. They don't know what to do with it either. What's known about trans fats in the human body is that they do indeed cause inflammation, in the circulatory system and elsewhere. But when the body itself doesn't really know how to process this type of "fake food," it's hard to even judge the limits of what other problems it might be causing. It's also known that the body doesn't even necessarily excrete all of this foreign substance, especially if a lot of it is habitually consumed, as is the case with most margarine-eaters. A substantial portion of it ends up stuck in the walls of arteries and other passageways throughout the body, which can certainly be expected to cause circulation-impairment issues and so on down the line. And worse yet, stick margarine is as close to 100 percent trans fat as you’ll find in a food product.

Trans fats are strongly linked to diabetes, high cholesterol, sudden cardiac death, obesity, and heart disease. You'd be hard-pressed to find a genuinely worse thing you could eat besides margarine.

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