Home » fat burning » How trans fats block fat burning

How trans fats block fat burning

This article kicks off a series of blog posts called “The Main Fat Burn Inhibitors in my opinion”. First off, is a huge one: TRANS FATS. They are everywhere, sometimes very obvious, but so few of us seem to be aware of the consequences.

Trans what? I’m talking about the worst kind of fat around. No, not saturated fat (which improves fat burning). Actually, it all starts with UNSATURATED fat, often referred to as vegetable oils. On a molecular level, unsaturated fat has double chemical bonds – cis-bonds. When these are treated with hydrogen ions at high temperature and under pressure, cis-bonds are changed into trans-bonds. It’s called hydrogenation and has been happening industrially for decades. Hydrogenating cheap vegetable oils obtains fatty substances with more desirable physical properties. Think of easily spreadable margarines. Products with trans fats will also have longer shelf lives.

Trans fats arise on a smaller scale too, at home, when we heat vegetable oils (mainly poly-unsaturated, such as omega-3 and -6). No matter how they’re heated, deep-fry, pan-fry, bake… Exception to the “vegetable” rule is coconut oil, rich in saturated fat and perfect for about any situation.

Vaccenic acid

Trans fats also occur naturally in fat from ruminants. When cows, sheep and goats eat plants, the plant oils are fermented in one of their stomachs, creating trans fats. Vaccenic acid is the main natural trans fat in dairy and ruminant meat and forms about 2% of the total fat profile.

There are a few important differences with industrial trans fats, though. Firstly, they are formed under normal circumstances (normal body temperature and pressure). Secondly, a very different distribution of trans-bond positions along the carbon chains. Thirdly, our body can convert vaccenic acid into conjugated linoleic acid, which is believed to have beneficial health effects (although not much research has been done on this yet).

How are these fats so bad?

Where to start!? Trans fats have been scientifically proven to disturb cholesterol metabolism in the liver, tipping the LDL:HDL balance over to favour LDL-particles. This means a higher ratio and risk factor for cardiovascular disease. However, it does not mean LDL-cholesterol should be seen as “the bad one”. It’s about balance.

Trans fats cause chronic inflammation by blocking an important enzyme (delta-6-desaturase) in the inflammation system. For athletes, and for every one of us having to recover from everyday activities, this is a real problem, as recovery as a whole is impaired. With inflammation comes pain. So those little niggles and pains we all deal with now and then will be more painful, more constantly present, and won’t heal up completely.

Chronic inflammation is further worsened in another way. Trans fats tend to overexcite the pancreas to produce too much insulin. About halfway down the omega-6 pathway, excess insulin stimulates another enzyme (delta-5-desaturase) that takes omega-6 fats away from prostaglandin 1 (anti-inflammatory) and shunts it into pro-inflammatory pathways. Meanwhile, blood sugar handling goes haywire. The body is doing everything to make sure blood sugar doesn’t dip into hypoglycaemia, at the cost of durable fat burning.

The hormonal system will suffer as well. Cholesterol is the main building block for various types of hormones (steroid hormones in the adrenals, sex hormones, vitamin D). If our body is not managing cholesterol properly, that can jeopardize hormone synthesis. Any type of stress on the adrenal glands will favour stress hormone production, resulting in more sugar and less fat for fuel.

There are surely more disadvantages to eating trans fats. As science discovers more, more harmful effects will become clear to us. Moral of the story: they’re just not healthy, not even in the slightest amounts.

How to avoid trans fats

Let me begin with how to avoid the industrially hydrogenated ones, probably the worst trans fats around. Most obvious: MARGARINE. Often used as spread and for cooking, hidden in tons of products. All margarines are bad, no matter what vegetable oils they are made of. Often, soy, olive or sunflower oil are used.

Look for hidden trans fats on labels. It can be worded as vaguely as vegetable oil, or the oil may be specifiejd. Assume the product contains trans fats if it was clearly heated during preparation. When in doubt, assume the vegetable oil was hydrogenated. Sometimes it plainly says margarine. Often it’s worded as partially hydrogenated or hardened fats, which literally means trans fats. Don’t buy it. Don’t eat it.

Don’t use vegetable oils rich in unsaturated fats for cooking and frying. Examples are sunflower, canola, safflower, peanut, soybean, corn, olive and colza oil, and any nut oil. The originally okay oil is degraded to poor quality and you will certainly create some trans fats.

What are healthier alternatives?

If you’re looking for a fatty substance to add to your plate cold, either as a spread or dressing, use anything natural and raw. Think of butter, ghee (clarified butter), lard, coconut oil, or even some liquid oils, such as olive, colza, or any nut oil. Limit most other oils, as these contain too much omega-6 for a balanced fat intake.

If you are cooking with fats, stick to those high in the more stable SATURATED fat. Choose from butter, ghee, lard and coconut oil. Cocoa butter, which you’ll find in most Belgian chocolate, is safe too. It becomes trickier when it comes to any food you didn’t make yourself. Read labels carefully whenever you can. If necessary, and if you have the courage, friendly ask whoever made it what fats were used.

Unlike most other things we eat, trans fats cause harm even with the smallest amount. There is no minimum need. Trans fats cause imbalance in so many ways, health is under scrutiny. I try to explain how consuming trans fats regularly will impair fat burning and, thus, performance. More importantly, remember how our health suffers from eating them, especially in the long run.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *
Email *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)