I now think that people who are easily confused (like myself) are less likely to eat healthily given the amount of information now available to us about saturated, unsaturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated fats and four-room HDB flats.
Naomi and I try sporadically to eat healthily, and because we are such ingterneck-savvy people, we’ve taken to reading up about what we’re eating in the hope of knowing what to eat and what we shouldn’t. This is what we know so far:
Don’t eat so much fatty food, but some fats are good;
Diary products contain unsaturated fats, so we shouldn’t eat so much, but we need the calcium;
Fish contain good fats, but also apparently contain mercury, which, if you don’t intend being a human thermometer, isn’t all that good for you. (Next time you think you’re running a temperature, stuff a mackerel in your mouth, and it’ll tell you if you need a panadol and a cold bath).
The FDA says, “Scientific evidence shows that consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad cholesterol,” levels, which increases the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, more than 12.5 million Americans have CHD, and more than 500,000 die each year. That makes CHD one of the leading causes of death in the United States.”;
and that, “Trans fat, like saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, raises the LDL cholesterol that increases your risk for CHD. Americans consume on average 4 to 5 times as much saturated fat as trans fat in their diets. Although saturated fat is the main dietary culprit that raises LDL, trans fat and dietary cholesterol also contribute significantly.”
Harvard (meaning it’s gotta be good and authoritative) nutritionists say that, “By our most conservative estimate, replacement of partially hydrogenated fat in the U.S. diet with natural unhydrogenated vegetable oils would prevent approximately 30,000 premature coronary deaths per year, and epidemiologic evidence suggests this number is closer to 100,000 premature deaths annually.”
In Singapore, the HPB says, “Yes. Trans fat raises LDL-cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) and reduces HDL-cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) in the body. As a result, trans fat increases the risk of developing heart disease. There is no conclusive evidence to date for the effect of trans fat on other health risks such as diabetes or cancer. Currently there is also no evidence to show that consumption of trans fat found naturally in food will increase the risk of heart disease, so there is no reason to avoid beef, lamb, mutton or dairy products because they contain trans fat. “.
I don’t know, but our local health board advisory seems to sound a bit… what’s the word for it? Contradictorated? Polycontradictorated? Monocontradictorated… or at least partially contradictorated?
So, what can you do to figure out what’s good to eat and what isn’t?
The FDA made it compulsory from 2006 for manufacturers to state trans fat levels on food labels, so that you can figure out, say, whether to eat a slab of butter or a spoonful of margarine:
1 tablespoon of butter contains zero trans fat;
1 tablespoon of margarine contains 3 grams of trans fat;
But the same amount of butter contains 30 milligrams of cholesterol while margarine doesn’t. Arrgh! so which do I put on my toast before it gets cold?
OK, so you may be able to work out some sort of balance as to how much is considered “in moderation” for either. But here’s the rub:
U.S. labelling rules state that: “if the serving contains less than 0.5 gram [of trans fat], the content, when declared, shall be expressed as zero.”
To that, the good folk at bantransfat.com say: “Suppose a product contains 0.4 grams per serving and you eat four servings (which is not uncommon). You have just consumed 1.6 grams of trans fat, despite the fact that the package claims that the product contains zero grams of trans fat per serving.”
Nabeh, kenah bluff. Which is serious stuff considering the WHO recommends that total daily intake of trans fat should be below 2g.
Bantransfat.com also tells us that “Fully hydrogenated oils do not contain trans fat. However, if the word “hydrogenated” is used without the word “partially,” that product may contain partially hydrogenated oil. Not all labeling is accurate and the word “partially” may have been wrongfully omitted on some products.”
So, can kenah bluff again in instances where it’s not compulsory to list trans fat content (like here). Sure we’ve got promotional material at hawker centres and food stalls telling us that they don’t use lard in their cooking and use ‘vegetable oil’ instead. But you should know when they say “vegetable oil”, it really is usually palm oil or peanut oil if they don’t say otherwise, which is usually partially hydrogenated, which means it contains trans fat.
Our friendly local health board says they’ve been “working with ingredient suppliers to develop reduced trans fat shortenings used in baked products. To date, at least one major local biscuit manufacturer has switched to using trans fat free shortening, and several other pastry retailers will also be switching over to this shortening soon.”
It is a serious matter, especially is you look at the numbers of estimated premature deaths in the US, but no worry, because “This year, HPB will focus on fat as part of its nutrition education efforts. We have recently conducted a public forum on fats – look out for more events coming your way!”