Trans fats such as margarine, Dalda and vanaspatighee are known to enhance the texture and taste of refined, convenience, packaged and deep-fried food such as biscuits, pastry, chips, croissants, doughnuts, samosas, kachoris, gulab jamuns, bhaturas and parathas. These foods have the irresistibly flaky and crunchy texture because of the trans fats they contain. Also, most of these foods contain large amounts of refined flour and/or white sugar, no fibre and therefore offer little satiety, making them easy to binge on, or overeat. French fries, sausages, salami and salad dressings are some other foods that contain trans fats.

Fat fetters: Avoid bingeing on deep-fried foods.

This process of hydrogenation makes trans fats solid as well as unstable and susceptible to free radical attack. Hydrogenation also affects our cell membranes by hardening them, and severely restricting the absorption of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes such as potassium and sodium.

Clearly, excessive intake of foods that contain trans fats can over time irreversibly damage cell walls, affecting the protective barrier of the cell that is vital for keeping them alive and healthy. Toxins and free radicals then easily invade these affected cells, severely paralyse their functions and eventually cause cell death. Trans fats also interfere with the metabolism of healthy omega 3 and omega 6 fats.

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Omega nutrition is crucial for health. It lowers inflammation, controls or inhibits arthritis, lowers blood pressure, cholesterol and clotting, reduces the severity of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and improves immunity and insulin sensitivity, and fights ageing. A high intake of foods that have trans fats can, therefore, come in the way of the benefits that omega nutrition can offer.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), trans fats should make up no more than 1% of our total calorie intake to enable a healthy lipid profile and cholesterol level, and avoid heart disease. Assuming an average calorific intake of 1,500 calories for an adult female, 1% would be 15 calories or three teaspoons of trans fats a day.

Eating out frequently could increase your trans fat intake by quite a bit without your knowledge. Bhaturas, for instance, have 9.5% trans fats; parathas, 7.8%; puris, 7.6%, tikkis, 7.5%; and French fries, 6.9%.

Ways to reduce the intake of trans fats:

• Checking labels on packaged foods is vital. Hydrogenated fats or hydrogenated vegetable oils are other names for trans fats

• Eat healthy meals regularly at 3-hour intervals so that you manage your hunger well enough not to crave sweets and trans fat-containing junk food.

•Ensure that you have a good intake of unrefined grains such as oats, bajra, nachni, wholewheat and brown rice at regular intervals to balance blood sugar levels, control cravings and weight

• Avoid bingeing on biscuits or chocolate. Replace with healthy snacks such as nuts or sprouts, or home-cooked fare such as upma, dalia, sprout or fruit chaat and skimmed yogurt

• Absolutely avoid foods that contain trans fats if you have a heart condition, are diabetic or overweight

• Avoid foods that contain trans fats on, say, two days of the week to control overall intake

• Be sure to drink lots of water, consume multicoloured vegetables and exercise every day to rid the body of any toxic build-up.

Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.

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