Bowl of unhealthy snacks

By Louisa Foo, in consultation with Elisa Mak, Dietitian

It is a source of energy, protective cushion for organs, and transport system for fat-soluble vitamins. The problem with fat is that we often eat much more than we should. Fat should take up no more than a third of our daily calorie intake and we should be mindful that the fat we do eat is of good quality.

According to Elisa Mak, Dietitian, Jurong Health, there are several types of fat in our diet.

“Each has a different effect on health and can either promote wellness or increase our risk of disease,” she said, “The most common type of fat we are told to avoid is saturated fat. However, there is a less talked about fat called trans fat.”

Trans fat (or trans fatty acids) is found in processed and convenience foods. This type of fat is extra dangerous because it doesn’t just increase bad cholesterol, but lowers good cholesterol as well.

Related: How Well Do You Know Your Sugar?

Trans Fat Explained

Olive oil and bread

There are two sources of trans fat. Small amounts can be found naturally in some meat and dairy. The second — and more significant source — is processed foods such as hard margarine, shortening and commercial deep-fried food and pastries.

Ms Mak explained, “Trans fat is formed when vegetable oils undergo hydrogenation, an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil so it becomes solid at room temperature.” This process makes fat more stable and less likely to spoil, giving foods made with it a longer shelf life.

Foods fried in this fat are also crisper. However, its impact on health is far from positive. In fact, the World Health Organization found that trans fat consumption is a significant contributor to cardiovascular disease.

Related: Trim the Fat

Track the Trans Fat

Checking out the fats in the nutritional label

Given the dangers of trans fat, moves have been made to limit or ban trans fat around the world. In Singapore, no more than 2g of trans fat per 100g is allowed in fat and oils supplied to food establishments and manufacturers and in retailed fat and oils.

Trans fat levels must also be indicated on food labels. Even so, consumers should also educate themselves to spot ‘hidden’ bad fat in processed food, said Ms Mak.

“Identify trans fat by looking for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or shortening in the ingredients list.” Look out too for other types of ‘bad’ fat such as palm or vegetable oil, she added.

Instead, opt for unhydrogenated oil such as olive, canola or peanut oil. Better yet, limit fat intake by avoiding deep-fried foods and swap to roasted or grilled foods instead. It is also beneficial to include heart-healthy sources of fat (from walnuts or oily fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel) two to three times a week into your meals.

In a healthy diet, 25 to 35 percent of your total daily calories should come from good fat.

Trans Fat

In trans fat, an extra hydrogen molecule is added to solidify liquid oil, giving it a longer shelf life and stability at high heat. It impacts health adversely, increasing bad cholesterol and lowering good cholesterol.

Saturated Fat

Saturated fat comes from animal fat. It clogs the arteries and raises blood cholesterol. Your daily intake should not exceed 10g a day.

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