Artificially produced trans fatty acids are used in the production of many foods and are found especially in readymade products and in baked and deep-fried foods. You are not doing yourself any favours by consuming such substances, because especially trans fats that are produced for industrial purposes can damage your health.
Natural vs. industrial trans fats
In nature, trans fats are produced in the digestive tract of ruminant animals, which is why they are also found in milk and meat. Such naturally occurring trans fatty acids from animal products have no harmful effect on our health based on what we know so far.
This, however, is not the case in food production that relies on industrial trans fatty acids. Such fats are produced by chemically hardening vegetable oils, a process referred to as "hydrogenation" that gives fat a better consistency and makes it easier to spread, as in the case of margarine. For the food industry, this discovery was a huge step, because artificially produced trans fats are ideally suited for the food industry and extend the shelf life of products considerably. Only later did researchers find that trans fatty acids have a damaging effect on our health in that they negatively impact our cholesterol level and make us more prone to cardiovascular disease.
Since 2008, the Federal Office of Public Health has been recommending two grams of trans fats to every 100 grams of total fat as the maximum ratio in Switzerland. This makes Switzerland the second country, next to Denmark, to have introduced a reference value.
Staying away from industrial trans fats
Despite the recommendation to consume as few artificial trans fats as possible, staying off fats in general is not a good idea because fat is an essential nutrient with important tasks for our body. However, you can do the following:
- Pay close attention to ingredients. If a food package tells you the item has partially or fully hydrogenated fats, it means you're looking at industrial trans fats.
- Use more natural fats instead. The fatty acids in butter, rapeseed oil and dairy products are of high-quality and healthy.
- Avoid readymade products if possible and cook or bake your own meals by using fresh ingredients.
- You may also inadvertently produce trans fatty acids at home by overheating temperature-sensitive oils. We therefore recommend that you always use oils (e.g. high-oleic sunflower oil) that can take high temperatures when you fry or deep-fry a dish. When using olive oil or rapeseed oil, avoid heating it to the point where it begins to smoke.