Interested terrified fats?

January 29, 2007

Barely have consumers – and health authorities – woken up to the dangers of trans fats when we are now told of a new, possibly greater threat.

The new substance to watch out for is interesterified fat.


First, let me tell you how I remember the spelling of this word – combine together “interest” and “terrified” but spell “terrified” with only one “r”.

Actually, it is made up of the words “inter” and the chemical term “esterified”, meaning “formed into ester”.

So what is this?

Basically, it is an attempt by food scientists to produce oils with “no trans fats”.

What they do is hydrogenate the oils fully. The oils become fully saturated and there are no trans fats left. But fully hydrogenated oil is hard and inedible. So the smart aleck scientists mix it with liquid oils and put it through other chemical processes to create a semi-solid grease like margarine and vegetable shortening.

Enough of the chemistry. The bottom line is this…

Early scientific reports – one of which was released about 10 days ago by joint-researchers from Malaysia (yeah! Malaysia boleh!) and the UK – suggest that interesterified fats are far more harmful than trans fats.

They were found to depress the level of HDL (good cholesterol) more than trans fats. They also raised blood glucose levels and depressed the level of insulin, suggesting that they could lead to diabetes.

So be extra careful of products labelled “No Trans Fat” especially when they contain fully hydrogenated oils.

Scientists who keep coming up with these strange, weird and terrifying stuffs never learn their lessons, do they? Or perhaps those who learn their lessons end up being jobless, because there are no more Frankenfoods for them to create.

Just stick to traditional foods that humans have been eating for thousands of years, and we will be all ok.

In the case of oils and fats, just stick to:

  • saturated fats like lard, butter, ghee, beef tallow, goose fat…. coconut oil and palm oil.
  • monounsaturated fats like olive, sesame, and peanut oils.

Note that:

  • Polyunsatured oils like corn, soybean, etc had not been traditionally used for cooking. Most were introduced only during the last century.
  • Canola, a monounsaturated fat widely touted as being the “healthiest oil” is another modern scientific invention, produced through genetic manipulation. To learn more, read this article titled The Great Con-nola.

I remember long long ago, in my early days of journalism, I wrote an article about a food company and had the chance to meet a food scientist. Off the record, I asked him, “Would it be accurate to say that the food scientist’s job is to minimise the harm rather than to maximise the benefits of processed foods?”

After a short pause, he nodded, “Yes”.

Longer, longer ago, when I was a teenager at pre-university, I half considered applying for a scholarship to study food science.

Glad I did not do that.

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