Fried Food — A Grave Risk Factor For Heart Disease

“In twentieth-century Old Earth, a fast food chain took dead cow meat, fried it in grease, added carcinogens, wrapped it in petroleum-based foam, and sold nine hundred billion units. Human beings! Go figure.” ― Dan Simmons, Hyperion.

Dan Simmons is a famous American writer who has Hugo Award winning novels to his credit. He voiced the satire of the fast food industry in his famous novel ‘Hyperion’ and cautioned the whole human race to beware of these greasy fried entities that have detrimental health effects.

Have you ever given this question a thought that what exactly is present in the fried foods that makes their consumption so gruesome? Does the picture that Simmons created, not scare you? Do you realize how dangerous fried food is and why is it important to know? May be not! Most of us seem to ignore this horrible fact because we love fried foods so much that we are ready to make peace with the harms associated with these foods.

Fried food, a shout-out to all the French fries loving people and to those who spend half of their life at fast food centers, which is deeply fried at ultra-high temperatures, is considered a direct cause of heart diseases especially, the coronary heart diseases.

Heart diseases are characterized into various types which occur due to different factors including dietary regime and lifestyle.

Although there are many risk factors associated with coronary heart disease (CHDs) e.g., smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, physical inactivity, obesity, family history of heart disease and ethnicity, the most important factor of all is the lifestyle of an individual, especially his or her diet.

Coronary Heart Disease

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) describes coronary heart disease as the complication of coronary arteries — associated with supplying oxygenated blood to the heart – making them narrow and constricted due to deposition of fatty materials called atheroma. This condition is known as atherosclerosis.

The main, underlying reason for atheroma of different kind pinpoints to the fatty materials consumed from different food sources. These fatty streaks take decades to develop into thick substances called  ‘plagues’, which constrict the arteries and further hinder the blood supply.

Risk-factors-for-coronary-heart-diseases, Fried Food

Fried Foods Contain Large Amounts Of Trans-fatty Acids

Fried and processed foods contain large amounts of fats known as trans-fats. The American Heart Association (AHA) explains the two major types of trans-fats that are a direct cause of coronary artery diseases and recommends against consuming the foods containing them in excess quantities. The two types are:

  • Naturally-occurring trans fats
  • Artificial trans fats
Naturally Occurring Trans Fats

These types of trans-fats are naturally produced in small quantities in the gut of some animals e.g., cows and buffaloes. Therefore, the food products obtained from these animals e.g., milk and meat products generally contain small quantities of these fats.

Artificial Trans-fatty Acids

Artificial trans-fats on the other hand, are produced through the industrial process of hydrogenation of liquid vegetable oil. During this process, hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oils to improve their consistency and make them more solid.

The major dietary source of these unhealthy fats are processed foods made by using ‘partially hydrogenated oils’. The quantities of these fats are also listed on the food labels. In November 2013, the FDA preliminary determined that these partially hydrogenated oils are no longer, Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) in human food.

Then finally in June 2015, whilst declaring these oils as unfit for use, a day marked by the wild atrocities of fried food lovers (it’s a joke they couldn’t get off their bed) the FDA, via press release, gave manufacturers in the US three years to completely remove partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) from their food products.

Susan Mayne, Director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition stated, “Studies show that diet and nutrition play a key role in preventing chronic health problems, such as cardiovascular diseases and today’s action goes hand in hand with other FDA initiatives to improve the health of Americans, including updating the Nutrition Facts label”.

The document released by FDA also stated that since the 1950s, PHOs have been widely used in processed foods to increase their shelf-life and flavor stability.

The harmful effects of PHOs further came into notice in the year 2002, when the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine reported a direct correlation between the intake of trans-fat and increased levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol leading to heart diseases. Yes, you would rarely find something that is considered appropriate by science.

A further initiative in this regard was taken in the year 2006 in which the FDA demanded the listing of the trans-fat content of processed foods on Nutrition Facts labels. Many companies understood the importance of the move and changed their formulations accordingly but most of the companies did not follow the guidelines at that time.

Harmful Effects Of Trans Fats From Unhealthy Oils

The AHA suggests not consuming foods fried in PHOs. Such foods are rich in unhealthy fats and can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in addition to lowering HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

Moreover, the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes exponentially increases through the consumption of trans-fats.

Similarly, a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 2012 accessed the association between consumption of fried foods and risk of coronary heart disease.

The findings from the study after analyzing the dietary patterns of 40757 adults aged 29-69 suggested that trans-fats from fried foods were the underlying reason for increased incidences of CHD.

Okay! I guess by this point you are most probably sweating in fear, don’t worry you can still devour those fried food without worrying about dying, only if you fry them in unhydrogenated oils.

However, a very important and interesting finding of the study suggested that using healthy unhydrogenated oils such as olive or sunflower oils for frying showed no association with coronary heart disease in individuals, even after consuming said fried food.

The Reason Behind Widespread Use Of Unhealthy Fats

Despite the harmful effects of these bad fats on the heart, they are still used on a large scale in many restaurants and industries. The first and foremost reason for using the oils containing trans fats is that it has a longer shelf life and foods deep fried in such oil gives food the desired firm texture and signature taste, which is liked by fast-food lovers.

Foods Rich In Bad Fats

According to the AHA, fried foods top the list of unhealthy foods rich in trans-fatty acids. Other food options including baked goods, cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, margarine spread etc., are also linked to the unhealthy fats and can lead to CHD.

Fried Food

How To Avoid Fatty Foods Rich In Artificial Fat?

The National Health Service (NHS), UK, also endorses avoiding trans-fatty products and suggests reducing the intake of products containing them.

The amounts of these bad fats can be controlled by looking at the ‘Nutrition Facts’ labels of the foods. Another way of tracking down these harmful substances in processed foods is by looking at the ingredients of products containing PHOs.

The AHA recommends that adults should only consume 5-6% saturated fats of total calories on a daily basis and should limit the amount of trans-fats to ensure a healthy heart.

An excellent alternative to avoiding these trans-fats would be switching to other healthier non-hydrogenated oil options such as olive oil, sunflower oil or canola oil which contain good amounts of monounsaturated (MUFAs) or polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) that are cardio-protective compounds.

Other valuable recommendations to limit harmful fats include adopting a Mediterranean dietary lifestyle — consuming foods fried in unhydrogenated oil rather than partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oils or saturated fat.

The AHA also suggests using soft margarine types over hard available in stick forms. A good practice for ensuring trans fats-free food products would be to look for ‘0 g trans-fat’ written on the Nutrition Facts label alongside no hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list of processed foods.

Limiting the intake of commercially fried foods along with baked products can also serve as a useful tool for ditching these bad fats from the diet.

Healthy Dietary Routine And Mediterranean Diet

Another key message is to balance the daily dietary routine with healthy foods rather than simply cutting back and avoiding specific food products. The Mediterranean diet, which suggests inclusion of healthy food options to the diet, is very popular these days in the nutrition community.

A study published in European Heart Journal i.e. a renowned journal affiliated with Oxford university press, suggested swapping unhealthy food options with more healthy ones.

The focal point of the study was on foods which are a part of the traditional Mediterranean diet including fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish alongside moderate alcohol intake, and fewer amounts of meaty options.

Moreover, guidelines from the AHA and the European Society of Cardiology also recommend frequent consumption of fruit, vegetables, fish, and other whole foods, in addition to restricting increased intake of sodium, sugar, saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates.

All of these unhealthy components are a vital part of the processed foods, present in typical Western dietary patterns. Therefore, limiting the use of fried and processed foods and the use of hydrogenated oils can lead to better heart health. Stay healthy, stay strong.

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