One food item that every athlete should avoid is trans fats. They are not beneficial in any form and they are not necessary for any reason biochemically. Avoidance of these fats is the one thing that anybody can do and it has the most widespread benefits. You’ll recover faster from your workouts or racing. You’ll recover faster from an injury. You’ll even help prevent some injuries.
Hydrogenated fats are, by definition, a poison, as even in a small amount they will induce a chemical reaction that may cause damage to structure or disturbance of function, producing symptomatology, illness, or death. These fats do not exist in nature (with the exception of a very small, irrelevant amount found naturally in cow milk). They are processed from naturally occurring fats and oils by converting the natural “cis” form of the fat into a “trans” form. This is done by bubbling hydrogen gas into the oil at very high temperatures.
Trans fats alter the configuration of cell membranes and they block important enzymes that are necessary for the metabolism of fats. Your body can metabolize half of a “cis” fat in 18 days. Yet it takes your body 51 days to metabolize just half of a hydrogenated fat. Do the math…after 102 days, there is still 25% left for your body to deal with.
Trans fats block the production of Type 1 and 3 prostaglandins (PG), which are derived from the omega 6 and omega 3 fats respectfully. These prostaglandins will help you fight inflammation as well as benefit your hormonal and nervous system. They do not, however, block the Type 2 prostaglandins which are derived from dairy, red meat, and shellfish. These fats increase inflammation. So you can see now how a diet high in saturated (PG2) and hydrogenated fats not only increases inflammation themselves, but they block the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, further promoting inflammation. That’s a lot of inflammation!
Daily, nagging symptoms are many times provoked, if not caused by trans fats. This includes but is definitely not limited to headaches, PMS, hot flashes, skin problems, asthma (including EIA), arthritis, and joint pain – as well as chronic diseases such as cancer, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks, and strokes.
NSAIDs – the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – work by blocking all PG production. Avoidance of trans fats and consumption of natural omega 3 & 6 fats usually turn around the everyday nagging symptoms in less than a month. If you ever achieve symptom relief from taking any NSAID, whether from an aspirin or ibuprofen, or a big player in today’s market such as the Cox-2 inhibitors Vioxx or Celebrex, it is almost certain that you have a fatty acid imbalance. That is how these drugs work. You don’t have a deficiency of them; I’m sure of that.
Read the ingredients. Since trans fats do not exist in nature you don’t have to worry about getting them in whole foods such as meats, vegetables, fruits, etc. It’s the breads, cookies, pastries, crackers, and packaged foods you’ve got to look out for. You’ll find it even in foods labeled “fat free”. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first ingredient listed or the last and it has no relationship to the grams of fat listed on the box. Always use pure butter, never margarine. That will end the “heart-healthy” cholesterol debate. Trans fats are one of the worst, if not the worst, things for your heart and cholesterol level. You usually won’t find hydrogenated fats in sugary, chocolate things – they’re in the breaded/creamy stuff most often. But that is a generalization, so read all the ingredients. The only place you’ll most likely get hydrogenated fat and it won’t be in the ingredients is when something is deep-fried. Deep-frying almost always contains partially hydrogenated fats. However, [non-hydrogenated] vegetable oils that are heated to such high temperatures are extremely unhealthy regardless of whether they are trans fat free. The chemical acrylamide is produced during the frying process (as well as by other means). This chemical has been identified as a neurotoxin and has been linked with certain cancers.
A significant amount of free radicals are created during deep frying vegetable oils, typically more than when cooking with partially hydrogenated oils. Unrefined, monounsaturated oils (the healthy kind like olive oil), quickly lose their healthy benefits when heated to certain temperatures. This is true even for the common frying-type vegetable oils – corn & soy.
With so many food companies scurrying to make their product “trans fat free” to gain market share of the quickly spreading trans fat awareness craze, many are using deceptive tactics to trick even the informed consumer. Perhaps you’ve seen those labels flashing “Zero Trans Fats!” on bags of potato chips, crackers and other snack foods. While that sounds like an honest attempt of the food industry to get rid of ingredients that clog your arteries and cause a significant amount of inflammation, it’s really more of a scam. And this scam is approved by the FDA. In the world of the FDA, zero doesn’t really mean zero. Under their regulations, “If the serving contains less than 0.5 gram [of trans fat], the content, when declared, shall be expressed as zero.” 0.5 grams per serving can quickly add up when you consider what a “serving” really is. Consider that an 11-ounce bag of potato chips contains 11 servings. It’s perfectly legal to declare “Zero Trans Fats!” even though entire bag has more than 5 grams of trans fat – which the Institute of Medicine has declared unsafe in any amount.
Enjoy cleaning out your kitchen. Remember, you’ll say, “This stuff is in everything.” That is what everybody initially says. But it’s just that it’s in everything you eat. There are many alternatives today. For the occasional junk food – go to a health food store. Once you change your diet, it won’t be in anything.
So how do you know if your product contains trans (hydrogenated) fats? Simple: Search the ingredients list for the words:
- partially hydrogenated (such as “partially hydrogenated soybean oil”)
- mono or diglycerides
Oils To Use:
- Coconut oil/butter, real butter, and even organic lard for cooking
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil added to food after it is prepared – at least 1 TB per day
- Unrefined Sesame Seed Oil also added to food after it is prepared – a few TBs per week (never heat it)