In the second part of our Simple Food Terms – Explained series, we look at some more baffling terms that we might hear everyday but don’t know exactly what it means in terms of a healthy diet.
What on earth is a trans-fat, anyway? You can grasp the idea of animal fats being unhealthy for your heart, and the importance of consuming more mono-saturated fats, but trans-fat — that’s a tough one to truly understand.
Trans-fat, also known as “trans-fatty acid,” is a manufactured fat created by adding hydrogen to polyunsaturated oil with the aim of keeping the oil solid at room temperature, as well as extending its shelf-life. According to the American Heart Association, there are two types of trans-fats — those occurring naturally in some foods, and those that are artificially produced. The naturally occurring variety are in the gut of some animals and the foods they produce. One example is milk and meats from cows.
Food manufacturers produce the artificial variety, as mentioned above, by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Neither type is healthy because they raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Eating a diet high in trans-fats is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and even type 2 diabetes. You can tell if artificially produced trans-fats are in foods by reading nutrition labels and looking for the words “partially hydrogenated oil(s).”
Contrary to current popular belief, gluten is not the enemy — at least not to most of us. Of all the terms tossed around by well-meaning healthy eating gurus today, gluten has to be one of the most misunderstood.
Gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, oats, rye and barley, is only a danger to those with a gluten sensitivity or allergy. Most of the rest of us are doing ourselves a disservice by avoiding it, since we’re depriving our bodies of vitamins, minerals and fiber. For some reason, although experts are not sure exactly why, eating “gluten-free” products is currently a popular fad among health-conscious people in the U.S., who seem to perceive it as a “healthier” way to eat.
It’s not that gluten itself offers any special health benefits. Rather, it’s that by avoiding it, people are avoiding many healthy, nutrition-packed whole grains and cereals, which is definitely counter-productive to anyone trying to eat a healthy, nutritious diet! For example, a bowl of hot oatmeal on a cold winter’s day is not only nutritious and high in fiber, it’s also delicious and comforting! Choosing to eat gluten-free means no more oatmeal with a touch of brown sugar and nuts or dried fruit!