Transfats are monstrosities or how a small change can
have such a big impact

French and German food technologists around 1900 developed a method to extend the shelf life of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFs) as found in soya, fish, sunflower and corn oil from a number of months (refrigerated) to a number of years (unrefrigerated) so that they could be used in the manufacture of cookies, etc. They wanted to make vegetable oil resemble butter, which was much more expensive. They wanted to turn a liquid vegetable oil into a firmer fat, which could be used as a spread. At the time an opponent already referred to margarine as ‘plastic butter’ (Crisco fat by Procter & Gamble). They wanted to increase the melting temperature of vegetable oils so that they could be used more in the processing industry of cookies and ice-cream. So how did they achieve this?
The starting point is usually a
refined oil, which has already been stripped of its essential nutrients. This refined oil is then overheated (between 150° to 200°) and nickel (platinum, aluminium or copper) is added as a catalyst. It is then partially or wholly hydrogenated (hardened). The latter process means that the missing hydrogen atoms are added under pressure and bound with the oil’s carbons. During this process stable ‘transfatty acids’ are created, with a structure that is found nowhere in nature, and which does not belong in our body. In nature double alloys occur, especially in the cis-structure, whereby the hydrogen atoms are positioned on both sides of a double alloy (like a V). Unfortunately these cis- structures turn into trans-structures under pressure and due to the partial hardening of the PUFs. The hydrogen atoms are now on the opposite side.

If we start using these margarines and other partially hardened fats, these monstrosities will start to become part of our cells and they will also radically influence our cellular functions. (52) They undermine the integrity of our cellular membranes in our body. They take the place of healthy fats in cellular membranes. They are not ‘recognized’ by our body and disturb the absorption of nutrients as well as the release of waste, due to a dysfunctional cellular membrane. Moreover they also distort the natural conversion processes of essential fatty acids such as linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid and have an impact on blood viscosity, cholesterol levels and the blood vessel walls. In 1958 Ancel Keys already stated that the partial hardening of fats could cause cardiovascular disease due to the transfats in these products.
J. Aron of the University of San Francisco compared the transfats in our body with sand in a Swiss mechanical watch. The watch starts to slow down until the excess sand will make it stop. (65) In other words: transfats will slowly but surely make us ill. Udo Erasmus is very clear: ‘eating 60 mg of margarine or baking fats is twice as toxic as all the other food that we eat on a daily basis’ (181).

Attention: Transfats!
Omnipresent and dangerous

Almost all cookies, baking products such as cheap croissants, waffles, ice-cream, crackers, dressings, vegetarian burgers, frankfurters, crisps, French fries, muffins, donuts, chocolate chip cookies, popcorn, candy and margarine contain transfats. Transfats are omnipresent in catering and restaurant food (company, school, hospital and airline catering). For example 1 portion of chicken nuggets contains between 8 to 18 g of transfats and 1 portion of French fries between 5 to 12 g. The fats in French and Belgian fries can contain up to 46% transfats.
Schoolchildren will consume incredible amounts of transfats in their snacks (such as cookies, bars, crisps). These will undermine their sexual and fertility performance in the long run, and also their chance of having healthy babies in the future. Next to this 80% of children’s foods contain refined fats (chocolate paste), refined carbohydrates (white bread) and refined sugars (cookies). Transfats are always an ingredient when the packaging mentions the following: ‘wholly or partially hardened/hydrogenated fats’. At present transfats don’t even have to be mentioned on the packaging in most countries. But change is abreast. The Canadian authorities consider them to be extremely harmful; since the 90s the Netherlands has been imposing strict limits about the percentage of transfats in margarine and since 2004 there are restrictions regarding their use in Denmark. Only after a scientific committee stated that there simply was no safe level of transfats the US took limited measures with regard to the obligatory mention of transfats on labels from 1.1.2006. Israël will probably be imposing obligatory mentions on labels from 2007. Europe is currently reviewing the matter.

Transfats are monstrosities:

1. They break down the delta-6-desaturase enzyme, which complicates the necessary conversion of our omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (alpha-linoleic acid and linoleic acid) into prostaglandins (important hormone- like substances) (73) (74).
2. They prevent the functioning of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which might lead to hormonal, circulatory, immunity-related, concentration and memory problems (71).
3. They raise cholesterol levels (57) (they only increase ‘bad’
LDL and lower ‘good’ HDL), increase the adhesiveness of blood platelets (71) and increase the Lp(a) risk factor, which increases the general process of atherosclerosis (‘hardened arteries) (73) and thus the risk of contracting cardiovascular disease (70).

4. They reduce the immunity (reduction of B-cells and increase of T-cells) (73).
5. They increase the incidence of allergies, such as the development of asthma.
6. They increase the amount of insulin in blood, which indicates that the cell’s in
sulin receptors become less sensitive (73). As a result blood sugar levels will increase, the pancreas is overburdened and the risk of age-related diabetes increases (66). The red blood cells also seem to react less well to insulin. (71) Transfats also contribute to the incidence of age-related diabetes.

7. They prevent absorption of vitamin K, essential for developing strong bones.(66)
8. They prevent the build-up of muscular tissue and may bring about protein shortages. (182)
9. They disturb the normal metabolism of sexual hormones and contribute to pros
tate and breast cancer (70), to pre-menstrual syndrome and menopausal complaints.
10. They reduce the testosterone levels in men and contribute to producing deviant sperm cells (71).

11. They threaten the normal function of the reproductive organs and human fertility. (53) 12. They contribute to a decrease in vision (67) (71).
13. They reduce the production of breast milk (54) and the quality of this milk. (73)
14. They cause lower birth weights (55) and are transmitted to the
foetus through the placenta and breast milk. Normally the percentage of transfats in breast milk should only amount to 1%, but if the mother consumes more transfats, this can rise to 17% (71).
15. They impede children’s’ growth (56).

16. They reduce the transfer of stimuli between nerve cells, the distribution of neuro- transmitters and the global functioning of the nervous system, which in turn results in a higher risk of ADHD, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.
17. Moreover
transfats are encapsulated in our cellular membranes and they tend to impede the membrane’s normal function, due to their divergent structure. As a result they contribute even more to the aforementioned pathologies.

Natural transfats are not chemically

In ruminating animals such as cows, sheep and goats, naturally transfatty acids are present in a very limited measure (2 to 5%). If animals ingest transfats in their food then their fat may contain more chemically formed transfats. The natural transfats often deviate from chemically formed transfatty acids due to their behaviour and the place that double trans alloys hold in the fatty acid chain. In ruminants this is often in 11th position. In partially hardened fats usually in 9th, 10th or 12th position.
Transfat specialist Mary Enig is justified in calling the latter ‘molecular monstrosities’. As is the case with vegetables, fruit, cereals, herbs and nuts it is recommended to alternate healthy fats and extra virgin olive oil.

Fat or oil? What’s the difference? 

There is no difference between either. Fat is the solid form of oil and oil is the liquid form of fat. This is all related to the melting temperature of the oil or fat. Olive oil is liquid at room temperature while cocoa butter is solid at room temperature. Olive oil will solidify when placed in the refrigerator and cocoa butter turns into liquid oil when heated above 36°C. Thus for example the melting temperature of coconut oil is around 25°C. Coconut and red palm oil are liquid at body temperature.

What are the different types of fats?

Doctors often use the term ‘lipids’ when referring to fats. A lipid is the generic term for all fatty components. Every natural and untreated fat has a unique composition and unique properties. Fats can be categorized according to several criteria. The three most frequently used criteria by scientists, to categorize the most prevalent fats, i.e. triglycerides, are the measure of saturation, the length of the fatty acid chains and the omega family. Another important fact is that no natural fat or oil can be fully categorized in one single group. Fats such as olive oil or coconut oil naturally always contain a composition of different types of fats. That was the way nature intended it to be. If oil is heavily refined and fractioned, as is for instance the case with fish oil, then one type of fatty acid, such as EPA for example, can be derived from oil. But the reader should know that nature and evolution did not intend for it to be this way. Several good components are lost during this process (see supra). The whole is better than its individual parts. Someone who is strong for example has a lot of muscles. But what are muscles if they are not supported by strong bones. The whole is thus better than the part.

Saturated, mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats

This classification is based on the number of hydrogen atoms, which are missing in fatty acids and the number of double bonds that they will have as a result. The fatty acid molecule is most sensitive to reaction in these bonds. Unsaturated fats will easily provoke positive or negative reactions here. For example they are responsible for the electric conduction of the cells, which is positive. But they are also easily attacked here by free radicals and can provoke a chain reaction of ageing (oxidation). Mono-unsaturated fatty acids lack hydrogen atoms in one location and have one double bond, while polyunsaturated fatty acids lack hydrogen atoms in several locations and display several double bonds. The more unsaturated a fatty acid is, the more unstable and reactive that it will be. In other words the more reactions that it can provoke, and the higher the chance of it being attacked and damaged. One big advantage of saturated fats is that they do not lack any hydrogen atoms and thus have no double bonds. Because they do not have these double bonds, they are considered to be more stable fats that are not so susceptible to oxidation.
Now you need all three types of fats. You might say that saturated fats can be loyal partners. But for an interesting and satisfying relationship you also need polyunsaturated fatty acids. In other words: saturated fats signify stability and ensure a balance (homeostasis) in your body. And it is wise to state that the unsaturated fats and certainly the polyunsaturated fats contribute to your vitality. Saturated fats are the roof and walls of your house. Mono-unsaturated fats are the windows. And the polyunsaturated fats are the doors. It is safe inside the house. If you open the window, then you will have fresh air, but you will also be letting insects in, which means that you might be bitten. If you step out, you can also have fun. You can go jogging, but you might also be driven over. The moral of this story: You need saturated, mono-unsaturated as well as polyunsaturated fats.

Omega 3,6,7,9 ...?

This classification of unsaturated fatty acids is determined by the location(s) of the double bond(s). The number after the omega indicates where the first double bond in the fatty acid can be found, starting from the fat’s methyl side. Omega-3, omega-6, omega-7 or omega-9 thus means that the first double bond is found after the 3rd, 6th, 7th or 9th carbon atom. Omega3 and omega-6 fatty acids are always polyunsaturated fatty acids, while omega-7 and omega-9 fatty acids are always mono-unsaturated fatty acids. They have different functions. For more information about omega fatty acids, please refer to my book ‘why omega 3/6?’

The difference between short, medium and long chain fatty acids. How are fats incorporated in our metabolism?

We chew our food and mix it with digestive enzymes in our mouth. Our mouth will then send a signal to the brain to prepare the digestion of fat. In the stomach the fatty acids are separated from the proteins and the carbohydrates. The actual digestion takes place in the top part of the intestine. There is an essential difference between short and medium chain fatty acids on the one hand and long chain fatty acids on the other hand as regards the duration and the manner in which they are digested.

Short and medium chain fatty acids

These fatty acids are already absorbed in the top part of the intestine and are then transported to the liver via the vena portae or portal vein. They are transported via the proteins in our blood (certain albumins). They are digested just as fast as carbohydrates, because they are tiny molecules. They are used in first instance as energy and barely have the chance to be stored as fat. You can find them in coconut and palm kernel oil. 

Long chain fatty acids

The digestion of long chain fatty acids is much more complex. Fats (triglycerides) with long chain fatty acids are not water-soluble. The liver first needs to produce bilious acid (which are stored in the gall) to emulsify fats, i.e. to divide them in small parts. The pancreas then releases lipase enzymes, to digest the fats, which will break down the long chain fatty acids into smaller units: Glycerol and free fatty acids. These are then absorbed via the lymph vessel and regrouped into triglycerides. These then need to be bonded to a lipoprotein (formation of chylomicrons) and then transported to the liver or other tissue.
It will take 6 to 8 hours before the body can use long chain fatty acids. These fatty acids are used as body fat first and then as energy. 

Fats can be classified in 3 groups

Short chain fatty acids: These contain 2 to 4 carbon atoms are relatively rare in nature. They can be found to some extent in vinegar, butter and milk.
Medium chain fatty acids: These contain 6 to 12 carbon atoms. These can be found in certain tropical plants. Coconut and palm kernel oil are the richest sources; milk and butter to a lesser extent.
Long chain fatty acids: These contain more than 12 carbon atoms and are most prevalent in nature. In vegetable,
fish and animal fats.

Saturated fat is extremely healthy. Surprised?
Of course. Read my answer here.

Mary Enig, who specializes in fats, a docent at the Maryland University in the US, and who wrote the book ‘facts about fats’, writes that we have all been misled by the American soya industry’s story that we should eat less saturated fats. Convinced that she is right about this, she recommends that everyone should eat saturated fats such as palm oil and coconut oil to contribute to one’s well-being. Saturated fats are an essential component of each cell. There are so important that nature itself has provided all vegetable and animal foods with saturated fats. There is a reason for everything.
1. Breast milk contains 45% to 50% saturated fats, 35% monounsaturated fats (omega 9) and 15 to 20% polyunsaturated fats. Just think: if saturated fats were unhealthy, why would mother nature include it as the most important fat in breast milk for babies?
2. Americans eat the least saturated fats, but are the world leaders when it comes to cardiovascular disease. (43)
The French eat a lot of saturated fats (cheese, cream, pâté) but the incidence of cardiovascular disease is twice less than among Americans.
3. The fats that clog our arteries only contain 26% saturated fat and 74% unsaturated fats (42).

4. In Polynesia (Pukapuka and Tokelau) the traditional population absorbed 60% of its calorie intake from saturated fats, mainly from coconuts. These populations barely suffer from cardiovascular disease, or excessively high cholesterol levels and were relatively slim (41). The researchers even established that there was no negative impact on their heart and arteries as a result f this high fat intake (60% of all calories).
5. Saturated fats reduce the Lp(a) value in blood (71) (73). An increased Lp(a) value is an indicator for a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
6. The body needs saturated fats more than it does need polyunsaturated fatty acids. At least half of the phospholipids in the cellular membranes should be of a saturated nature. It is also the most important fat in the myelin fatty acids (marrow sheaths of the nerve cells).
7. Polyunsaturated fatty acids need saturated fats to arrive at a good balance between the penetrability and the solidity of the cellular membranes. Polyunsaturated fatty acids ensure that they are penetrable. Saturated fats ensure that they are solid. Healthy cellular membranes need to consist of at least 50% saturated fats.
8. Approximately 50% of our fats need to be saturated fats to obtain a good absorption of calcium and magnesium. Shortages in calcium and magnesium as well as sun (or vitamin D) and exercise will lead to osteoporosis. (76)
9. Saturated fats will protect the liver against alcohol and certain medication. (77)
Saturated fats strengthen the immune system. (78) They will strengthen it in two ways: On the one hand by reducing oxidative stress (they are saturated and as a result are not attacked by free radicals) and the saturated fats lauric acid, caprine acid a
tnd caprinyl acids function as natural antibiotics. They not only kill bacteria but also viruses and funguses. 11.The extended omega-3 fatty acids (for example EPA and DHA) will be better used and protected in the cells if there are sufficient saturated fats available. (79)
12. The saturated fats stearine acid and palmitine acid are the heart’s favourite food. The heart needs these two fatty acids in times of stress (80). The heart is mainly surrounded and protected by saturated fatty acids.
13. If when administers high dosages of saturated fats of the MCT family such as coconut oil over a longer period of time, this will reduce cholesterol levels. (109)
14. Thailand has the highest coconut consumption worldwide and one of lowest incidences of cancer worldwide, according to the 1996 list of the National Cancer Institute.

15. The Philippines have one of the lowest ratios of cardiovascular disease worldwide and consume large quantities of coconut. According to a 1992 study (Philippine Journal of Internal Medicine).
16. Like alpha-linolenic acid saturated fats can reduce the C-reactive protein, which is a sign of infection and serves as a warning for the development of cardiovascular disease. (113)
17. The lung surfactant, a substance which helps lungs perform their duties and
prevents the lung alveoli from folding, consist of almost 100% saturated fats: Mainly palmitine acid. (113)
18. The saturated fats
myristic acid (coconut oil) and palmitine acid (palm oil) are an essential factor in the communication between cells. (113) Our kidneys also require myristic acid to do their job.

19. Dr. W. Douglass writes in his book ‘Eat that cholesterol’ that an excessive consumption of polyunsaturated fats can lead to 78% more wrinkles and can make us look 20 years older (based on a study among plastic surgeons). (115) In Polynesia, where people have used a lot of coconut oil (saturated fat), people have retained a radiant skin for longer.
20. If patients recovering from a heart attack take 7% of their calories from coconut oil, then they will recover faster than the control group. Coconut oil can also help prevent cardiovascular disease due to its antiviral function. (117)
The World Health Organization and even the American Heart Association recommend a diet with sufficient saturated fats to maintain the best possible health. The membranes of our cells prefer saturated fats to unsaturated fats. (18)

Saturated fats are good for you. You can’t do without them.
We need more saturated fats than any other type of fat.