Why we need to run for cover when the food industry appears to ‘come to our rescue’

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It’s a fundamental belief of mine that a ‘healthy’ diet is one made up of natural, unprocessed foods. Unfortunately, richer pickings for the food industry will generally be found in chemicalised, processed foods that have little or no place in the diet ” margarine springs readily to mind. After a half-century history of use, evidence has now shown the so-called ‘partially hydrogenated’ fats and ‘trans’ fats often found in margarine have many and varied toxic effects on the body, and are linked with conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, pregnancy complications and female infertility. Not that we needed the science to ‘prove’ that a foodstuff that is a very recent addition to the human diet has detrimental effects on health; it’s a matter of common sense.

This is worth bearing in mind when the food industry appears to ‘come to our rescue’ with some new-fangled food. As we’ve seen, we were sold a real pup when the food industry was keen to promote partially hydrogenated vegetable oils as a healthy alternative to saturated fat. Now that this untruth has got out, the food industry has been scurrying around looking for an alternative. It seems it has found this in the form of what is known as ‘interesterified’ fat. Interesterification, also known as ‘fatty acid randomisation’, involves the random chemical insertion of saturated fat to an existing fat. This ‘hardens’ it, just like partial hydrogenation does. And just like partial hydrogenation, it results in the making of fats that have not been in the human diet until very, very recently in terms of our evolution.

The food industry may want to give us the impression that the replacement of partially hydrogenated fats with interesterified fats is in our interests, but common sense dictates it is not. As will all things ‘new’, these brand new fats are highly unlikely to bring benefits, and would be expected to have toxic effects on health too.

Now, though, we don’t even have to rely on this theory, because a study just published on-line in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism has found that feeding individuals a diet rich in interesterified fat was found to lower levels of ‘healthy’ high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol ” something that is generally taken as a sign of increased risk of heart disease. And in addition, individuals eating these fats saw a significant increase in their blood sugar levels. This is something that appears to signify a reduced ability of the body to handle sugar appropriately, which itself is a risk factor for diabetes.

This situation with interesterified fats seems to be a good example of where science catches up with common sense. My strong advice, however, is that we do not wait for the science before we resolve not to eat some new-fangled, highly-processed, chemically-manipulated food that the industry sells as something ‘healthy’.


1. Sundram K, et al. Stearic acid-rich interesterified fat and trans-rich fat raise the LDL/HDL ratio and plasma glucose relative to palm olein in humans Nutrition & Metabolism 2007,4:3 (epub 15 January 2007)

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