Trans-Fatty Acids, what are they and why they are not so great.

Fats occur in long chains of carbon atoms (C) with hydrogen (H) sticking off the sides like a big centipede. If a fatty acid (FA) has as many H as possible and no more can fit on, it’s logically called ‘saturated’. If there is space to fit one more on, it’s called “mono-unsaturated’.  If there are more vacant spaces; “polyunsaturated”. Fully saturated chains are even and straight, and stack nicely against each other like cord wood, so that they are solid at room temperature (Many animal fats fall into this category – lard, butter, and some plants: avocado and coconut for example.) Unsaturated chain have kinks and bends in them and they don’t stack well, acting a bit higgledy piggledy, and so are more liquid at room temperature (Plant fats such as olive oil come to mind). If you take an unsaturated fatty acid and with a chemical reaction, forcibly add hydrogen, you can stick them on to saturate the molecule, but this forced process does not create a normal FA. The forcibly-added H’s stick onto the target FA in strange places, creating weird shapes that your body’s enzymes doesn’t know quite how to handle. Usually we digest fats that are cis (same side), and this forced reaction, or hydrogenation, creates trans – (opposite sides). Hence the term “trans fats”.

Why the heck would we create and sell foods by this process that are hard to digest or even harmful? Economics. These trans-fats have the stability of normal saturated FA’s at room temperature, but are much cheaper to produce. Growing and processing plant oils are cheaper than growing animals. A ‘pastry’ (and I use this term loosely) made with processed fats and other processed ingredients will last much longer on the shelves. Think Twinkies. The reason they last so long is that the microbes that cause the breakdown of food won’t touch them, and it they don’t, neither should you. Don’t eat anything that comes in cellophane or that you buy at a 7-11.

Eat real food that will eventually biodegrade.