The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI; aka the food & beverage police) are against banning trans fats from foods. In fact, they indicate that banning them “could be more harmful from a public health perspective.” Instead they favor a gradual phasing out of trans fats. How would a gradual phase out be more beneficial than an outright ban? According to CSPI, gradually phasing out trans fats will give restaurants and food companies more time to find suitable alternatives. I’m not totally sure I agree with this since most things need a deadline of some sort or they’ll get pushed to the very back of the “to do” list. And, if most companies operate the way people do – a quicker deadline just means they’ll get it off their plate sooner. Give them more time and they’ll take more time but won’t necessarily produce a better result. Not to mention the companies that care about health will look for better alternatives and the ones who don’t will stick what they have to in their food just to meet trans fat bans.
So what do companies replace trans fats with? There are several alternatives such as unsaturated fats, saturated fats, fully hydrogenated oils (vs. partially hydrogenated oils), blended oils, gums, cellulose and interesterified fats. Are these alternatives better or worse than trans fats? Most are probably better (even saturated fats) though fully hydrogenated oils and interesterified fats have huge question marks by them.
Interesterified fats have been around for many years and are basically a blend of saturated fats and oil. Older studies show that these have no effect on blood lipids. However, health effects may depend on the type of fat inserted and where it is inserted. Think of a long chain of links and inserting different links into this chain. The chain may kink or not bend at all in the places where links are inserted but this depends on the type of links inserted. The same is true for an interesterified fat.
Right now, I’m not a big fan of this type of fat. Some studies have seen increased blood glucose, increased LDL and decreased HDL associated with the consumption of interesterified fats. How will you be able to spot these fats? Look for interesterified fats on the food label or fully hydrogenated oil. In restaurants it is much harder to detect food prepared with interesterified fats. You would have to find out if they use shortening or any hard fat instead of liquid oil. And, many restaurant workers don’t seem to know.
Until research comes out and proves that all interesterfied fats are healthy, I think I’ll opt out of consuming food made with these blended fats.