Interesterified Fats: Trans Fat Replacements

6 Oct 2018

As Trans fats are being pressured out of the processed food market (not gone yet though) there are new fats that have replaced them without much ado. Even to this day little is said or known by the lay public and health care industry alike about the deleterious effects Trans fats have on our health.

These hydrogenated omega-6 vegetable oils stabilize food to dramatically prolong shelf life of foods. This allows those processed foods to remain on the grocery store shelf for many months without allowing the food to become stale, go rancid or lose significant nutritive value. The problem, though, is that they have now been linked to several cancers, heart disease, stroke and many inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

It has been almost thirty years in the making but these Trans fats are slowly being removed from processed and fast foods. While this has been happening, alternative fats have been replacing Trans fats with little discussion by the nutrition world, media or health care providers as to the effects these alternative fats may have on our health.

The first wave of Trans fat replacement included the vegetable oils but science reveals that they are no better on our health than the Trans fats. Manufacturers have removed the omega-3 component or treated them with a “Trans” process to stabilize them and put them back into the omega-6-rich vegetable oils. Omega-6 oils are pro-inflammatory. We do not know the effects of the Trans-converted omega-3 oils and the food label does not even inform us that they have been processed this way.

Since the blood test has become available to measure your omega-3 and omega-6 levels many of my patients have been shocked by their elevated omega-6 levels while consuming many farm-to-table foods but utilizing vegetable oils in the processing of their own food. What this demonstrates is that we are still at increased risk for many of the diseases that we have been suffering from Trans fats while switching over to vegetable oils.

The next wave of fats to be introduced into the Western diet are the “interesterified” fats. These triglyceride oils are altered triglycerides that have been obtained from vegetable oils. Manufacturers have learned how to chemically change their structure so that the fat is rendered stable in processed food.

As was seen with the introduction of Trans fats into the Western diet in the early part of the twentieth century, millions of people succumbed to the deleterious effects of Trans fats before any real effort was made to begin to remove them from the food chain. Preliminary scientific data reveal the rapid rise in circulating triglycerides after ingestion of interesterified vegetable triglycerides. No long-term data yet exist as to its safety or risk of heart disease or stroke. There is not even data yet demonstrating their effects on metabolism or digestibility. Yet, interesterified fats are now in the food chain in many processed foods. Are we going down the same road with interesterified triglycerides that we did with Trans fats?

My bias based on the preliminary data concerning these new fats is that I will continue to follow the diet of the French: butter. And, the Polynesians: coconut oil. Butter has been the mainstay of French cooking for centuries and they have a very low incidence of stroke and heart disease; this is known in the medical literature as the “French Paradox” as butter is high in saturated fats. We have been instructed for almost seventy years now that saturated fats are causing all of our heart disease and stroke. Massive decreases in saturated fats in the Western diet did not see a reduction in these diseases; rather, there has been and continues to be an explosion of stroke and heart disease. This can be attributed to several factors but excess omega-6 fat, either Trans-fat or vegetable oil, (pro-inflammatory) and omega-3 (anti-inflammatory) deficiency are two of those factors that are seen in the Western diet. When we departed from farm fats to vegetable oils and farm animals were moved from green pastures to corn and soy diets, we paid the price with our health.

Likewise, the Polynesians lived on fish and coconut oil until the arrival of Western influence and those that consumed this “new” diet began to see the rise of Western diseases. Those Polynesians that have continued to consume coconut oil and fish have continued to maintain a healthy diet.
These two fats, as well as other farm fats, have been around for many centuries. The vegetable oils are late comers to diets of the world. When you study the diets of many of the world’s cultures, you will see that the common fats consumed were lard, butter, tallow and suet. People thrived on these fats without the modern diseases we are plagued by today.

The “Mediterranean” diet, invented by Ancel Keys in the early 1990’s is now touted as a great diet alternative to the Western diet with the addition of olive oil to our diet. As Nina Teicholz points out in her book, The Big Fat Surprise, this oil was used primarily for lamp oil and soap until World War II. It does have great flavor and is relatively safe if consumed raw but undergoes chemical changes when heated. It also contains a considerable amount of inflammatory omega-6 fat.

It is interesting that France borders the Mediterranean as well. I like their version of the Mediterranean diet.

When we dine out or go shopping for food for the dinner table, we just want safe, clean food. With the loss of 20 million small farms in the 1960’s came modern urban centers. The food we now consume is mass produced the cheapest way possible. Science doesn’t keep up with the consumption of these food stuffs as we have seen with Trans fats and vegetable oils. I hope this provides you with some food for thought.
Dr. Lyons