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Are There Healthy, Naturally Occurring Trans Fats Found In Meat? YES!

Posted May 28 2010 1:55pm

Everyday we are bombarded with information and marketing telling us what is healthy for us. From food labels to “expert” advice espoused by doctors, dietitians and media pundits, we’re spoon-fed a whole lot of reasons why we should be eating or not eating something for the sake of our health. Some people are simply flabbergasted by the information overload and tune it all out because how do you know who and what to believe? This is a major problem for people who are a part of the health industry to try to overcome.

Simplifying the communication of important health messages is an essential method for insuring the general public both understands and implements proven strategies that can be practically applied into their daily lives. Without this, most of the science about diet and healthy living is rendered virtually meaningless because the people it is meant to help make better decisions about what to do regarding their health cannot comprehend it well enough. Unfortunately, though, sometimes the simplicity of making broad statements as universally true axioms regarding health can backfire and lead to even more confusion. Thus is the case with trans fats.

If you’ve been paying any attention at all in the past few years, then undoubtedly you’ve gotten the message loud and clear that trans fats are to be avoided as much as humanly possible. Most of the major health organizations say to keep trans fat consumption to no more than 2g daily. Unfortunately, some people who think they are not ingesting any trans fats at all are getting it into their body because of some shifty nutrition labeling practices the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) allows by letting a company declare a product is “trans fat-free” if it contains less than .5g. This is disgusting and should not be allowed. But that’s why it is so vitally important that you also read the ingredients list of any food you purchase to make sure it doesn’t contain “partially hydrogenated” ANYTHING! If you see that, run like the wind.

One of my readers was shopping at his local Trader Joe’s recently and came upon some grass-fed beef he wanted to purchase. He was excited to find this high-quality meat at a place where he regularly shops, but quickly became concerned when he saw that there were trans fats included on the nutritional label for the meat. WHAT?! He decided not to purchase the meat and instead zipped an e-mail to Trader Joe’s asking them what the deal was with trans fats being in the grass-fed beef. He thought the manufacturer may have slipped some into the meat for taste or something.

A couple of days later, here’s the message he received from Trader Joe’s:

Thank you for taking the time to contact us with your product inquiry, and we do truly appreciate you allowing us the opportunity to address your concerns with you directly. In response, we wanted to share with you that the trans fats information represented in the nutritional fact information represent what are naturally occurring trace amounts of trans fats, which would again be found in small amounts naturally in some meat and dairy products, including beef, lamb and butterfat. However, the saturated fats in any grass-fed beef would be lower than in beef that is grass and grain fed, in comparison.

Now they just HAD to get in a jab at saturated fat, didn’t they? I suppose they thought they were making a better case for encouraging my reader to purchase the meat by stating it has less saturated fat in it. GRRR! Plus they gave him a link to the American Heart Association’s position on trans fats –again, this was not a very good way for the Trader Joe’s customer relations representative to endear himself to my reader since they fail to distinguish the manmade trans fats in processed high-carb carbage and the healthy natural trans fats that are found in delicious and nutritious meats.

Still baffled by this news of “naturally occurring” trans fats in the grass-fed beef and whether they’re okay to eat or not, my reader e-mailed me for an explanation. There are indeed GOOD healthy trans fats that are a part of meat that you rarely hear anyone ever talk about. This trans fat is called conjugated linoleic acid, aka CLA, and contains some truly incredible health benefits. CLA is found primarily in beef, lamb and all full-fat dairy products and is a fantastic fat burner for people desiring weight loss as well as bone density preservation. In other words, it’s a trans fat that is unnecessary to be avoided like the plague as we’ve been scare-mongered into believing.

I wanted to turn to some of my highly-intelligent expert friends to respond to this reader’s concern about the trans fats in meat as well and here’s what a few of them stated:

DANA CARPENDER , noted low-carb cookbook author

They’re called CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, and they’re super-good for you. Seem to increase fat burning and even fat cell apoptosis. It also prevents cancer and is frequently sold as a supplement! In other words, no worries. For this you should pay extra.

(Read her full blog post about this at Dana’s blog!)

STANLEY FISHMAN , author of Tender Grassfed Meat

I have heard of natural trans fats that occur in butter and grassfed meat fat. Unlike manmade trans fats, natural trans fats are very beneficial, being a completely different substance. There was a lot of research done on natural trans fats at the University of Alberta in Canada, which established that the natural trans fats in meat and butter are both harmless and very healthy. My information is as solid as it can get, coming from an article by Dr. Mary Enig, the scientist who discovered the dangers of manmade trans fats.

Why does the government require them to be listed? Because the food industry constantly tries to claim that all food, whether natural or unnatural, is the same. Personally, I have no respect for the American Heart Association. They continue to earn my contempt with their trans fats article, which fails to distinguish between the natural, healthy trans fats that occur in real food and the lab made abominations. I would be fine with eating that meat.

(Read Stanley’s detailed blog post on this subject.)

MARK SISSON , popular health blogger and author

Yep, it’s true. There are trace amounts of trans fat found naturally in meat and dairy, and these natural trans fats actually aren’t that bad for you.

(for more on trans fats from Mark, check this out !)

DR. JONNY BOWDEN , prolific health and nutrition writer

There is one trans-fat that is actually a healthy fat. We rarely mention this when dealing with the public because it is too confusing–since 99.99 percent of trans fats (man-made) are bad, we just say no trans fats. We should technically say no “man made” trans fats, because these are the hydrogenated oils that everyone knows about and are really, really bad stuff.

However there is ONE naturally occuring trans-fatty acid made in the bodies of ruminants. It’s found in GRASS FED beef and products made from grass-fed animals (like grass-fed butter). The fat is called CLA (conjugated linolenic acid) it has been found to have significant ANTI-cancer properties and in some studies an anti-obesity effect (reduces abdominal fat). It is a GOOD fat. That’s the trans-fat they’re referring to on the label your reader saw–you want that to be there! Unfortunately, with all the public proclamations about the dangers of trans-fat, this one exception gets lost in the shuffle.

JENNIFER MCLAGAN , author of Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient

Yes there is a naturally occurring trans fat CLA in ruminant fat and because of all the crazy labeling going on the beef your reader ordered and bakery products made with good natural butter have trans fats. However these are natural fats not manmade and their different chemical composition means they are not harmful. In fact, fat from ruminants is beneficial to our health according to Dale E. Bauman, a professor of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University. He is convinced today’s science supports the concept that fats from ruminants (cow, goat, sheep) provide valuable nutrients that help maintain health and prevent disease.

CONNIE LEAS , author of Fat: It’s Not What You Think

Yes. As far as my research shows, Trader Joe’s has got it right. Butter also has trace amounts. But there’s a slight difference in the chemical makeup. Here’s what my book says on page 126: “Usually the fats of these animals [ruminants, such as cows] contain about 2 percent trans fats, but can be as high as 5 percent. By contrast, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils contain as much as 50 to 60 percent trans fat. When cows and other ruminants eat plants, tiny microorganisms associated with the plants initially produce the enzymes for digesting the plant material. It may be that these microorganisms help maximize the nutrients obtainable from a diet of leaves, roots, and other plant materials. In the process of microbial digestion in the rumen, some unsaturated fatty acids become saturated, and some double bonds are transformed from the cis to the trans configuration. The trans double bonds that occur in natural trans fats are identical to those that occur in the synthesized trans fats. However, the bonds on synthetic trans fats may form on different parts of the molecule than those of naturally occurring trans fats, a situation that renders the synthetic trans fats unrecognizable to certain enzymes.”

So the bottom line here is that natural trans fats found in meats and full-fat dairy products are NOT harmful and are in fact HEALTHY for your body to be consuming. I know that can seem difficult to believe that a trans fat can possibly be good for you. It’s times like these I wish we could change the terminology to make it easier on the consumer so there isn’t confusion like this. But it is what it is. Just know that CLA is a natural trans fat that your body would be proud to have you consume. EAT UP on the grass-fed meats with confidence that you are doing something positive for your body!

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