In a groundbreaking move earlier this month, US food safety officials initiated steps to ban the use of trans fats, saying they are a threat to health.
Trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated oils, are no longer “generally recognised as safe”, says the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The regulator claims that a ban could prevent 7 000 deaths and 20 000 heart attacks in the US each year.
Industrially produced trans fats – created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, making it a solid – are used in processed foods and in restaurants as a way to improve the shelf life or flavour. Foods commonly containing trans fat include some processed baked goods such as cakes, biscuits and pies, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza and other refrigerated dough products, some fast foods, margarine and other spreads and coffee creamer.
Not all fats are created equal
That said, not all fat is bad. Nearly every nutrition expert agrees that a moderate amount of fat consumption plays an important role in maintaining a healthy diet. It provides our bodies with energy, is essential for growth and development, and is necessary for the absorption of vitamins.
A balanced diet should contain more unsaturated fat than saturated fat (the latter is found frequently in foods like butter, lard, chocolate, cakes, pastries and meat products, including sausages and pies). Most people eat too much saturated fat: around 20% more than the recommended maximum. A diet high in saturated fat can increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels (otherwise known as bad cholesterol) in blood over time, increasing the risk of heart disease.
Due to its high concentration of monounsaturated fat — the primary fat source – olive oil can actually help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. This ‘good’ fat is, in fact, a nutrient with important functions. Among them:
- It’s a rich source of energy. Did you know that fats produce more than double the energy acquired from carbohydrates or proteins?
- It’s a carrier for vitamins A, D, E and K
- It provides linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid, essential polyunsaturated fatty acids.
- It contributes flavour and a sense of “fullness” when part of an eating healthy diet.
Aside from being naturally free of cholesterol and trans fat, olive oil is also free of salt, sugar, and gluten. This, coupled with the fact that it’s rich in monounsaturated fat (that’s the good kind), is the reason doctors tout the health benefits of olive oil: it helps protect against heart disease, aids in digestion and has been known to promote healthy ageing.
Simply put, olive oil is one of the best ways to substitute the bad fat in your diet with the good fat. So why not buy a bottle right now?