Trans Fats: A Subtle Contributor To High Blood Cholesterol

Many wonder why the issue of high blood cholesterol always comes up when cardiovascular diseases are being discussed. It’s mentioned in most health talks, medical consultations and medical checkup list. It is because it is a risk factor to many diseases such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, strokes, heart attacks and heart failure. The need for its prevention and management cannot be over emphasized if we are to avoid these diseases and their attendant complications.

The causes of raised blood cholesterol include a genetic predisposition in one’s body to produce cholesterol excessively but can also be diet related. The major dietary habits associated with this include; high refined foods intake and high saturated fats (butter, cheese, fatty meat) intake. High intake of trans fats to which this article is dedicated is a seemingly subtle source that many are unaware of. It is a variation (isomer) of cis – fat which is not cholesterol per say but can lead to its formation.  Below are a few habits that lead to intake of trans fats.

EXCESSIVE FRYING - A major source of trans fats are excessively fried foods, usually done under high temperatures. The typical habit of many is to fry the staple or carbohydrate, protein and stew. A classic example fried yam and meat (pork) or fried fish where the yam is deeply fried, the meat or fish is also deeply fried and west of all, the grinded green pepper is also fried. Apart from the high caloric, there is also the likelihood on ingesting lots of trans fats. I advise that we do this combination less often and possibly, bake the yam, stir fry the green pepper or avoid frying the pepper but grind it. Air frying is another way of cooking that reduces oil use. Moderate grilling or roasting of fish or lean meat is also advised.

REPEATED USE OF OIL- Another major source of trans fats is the repeated use of oil. It is not uncommon to see our mothers use the same oil to fry fish and store what is left in bottles to use the next day to fry ripened plantain and there after use it for the preparation of “shito”. This shito is heated on fire for a long time and reheated when it threatens to go bad. Many also prepare large quantities of stews or soups in a big cooking pot, fetch some for use and put it back on fire to reheat. They do this until the whole stew or soup is finished on fire. This exposes the oil in the stew to reheating when the food is warmed. I observe that many who fry yam, pork, koose, kelewele, etc use the same oil for many rounds of frying till the oil becomes black. The above explained cooking habits tend to increase the ingestion of trans fats when the foods are taken. This can certainly lead to the accumulation of high blood cholesterol when this habit persist.

My advice is that we use oil once or do shallow frying to finish the oil we use to fry. Discard after use if you do deep frying or at most use it twice.  Many will complain about the high cost of oil but we cannot compromise our health for economic expediency. Stir frying with little oil is also advised. Again, after cooking large volumes of stew or soup, portion them into smaller bowls to be stored in the freezer to be heated and finished when needed.

HYDROGENATED FATS- The technical process of hydrogenation of fats turns them into trans fats that can lead to high blood cholesterol. Margarine is one of such fats and is no better than butter. Both have to be taken in moderation and less often especially for adults.

My advice is that options such as groundnut paste, fruit jams and vegetable salad should be used as spreads. If margarine or butter is to be used, they should be done sparingly with a thin spread. The habit of using margarine with cheese and condensed milk together may not be helpful when done on a consistent basis.

DEODORIZED OILS- These are used oils which are bleached, deodorized and re-packaged for sale. They smell good and look fresh but are usually filled with trans fats. Checking labels for trans fat free oils are helpful. Again, we can prepare our own groundnut oil and vegetable oils at home to use.

Hope I have helped you to be minded of these sources of trans fats that can be harmful to your health when taken in large quantities and consistent basis. Do not forget to eat to live because life is precious


Nana Kofi Owusu

Dietitian/Lecturer- University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS)


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