By Shelley Burns
Originally published in Skin Deep, October/November 2006.
It is very easy to get caught up in today’s craze for convenience. It’s easy to think we don’t have time to cook healthy meals and must rely on fast food to survive. What some people don’t realize is convenience foods are full of saturated fatty acids, especially in the form of hydrogenated fats. Hydrogenated fats are produced when hydrogen is injected into unsaturated fatty acids, the process used in converting vegetable oil to margarine.
Foods high in hydrogenated fats are less expensive and have a longer shelf life, which is why they are so popular in the food industry. Some familiar examples are cookies, potato chips, French fries, donuts, muffins, candy bars, and margarine.
While it’s true hydrogenated fats provide fuel for the body, they have little other nutritional benefit. Your body makes all the saturated fatty acids it requires, so there is no need to ingest them. The more of these you add to your body, the greater the risk for skin manifestations.
What’s worse is hydrogenated fats can interfere with your cells’ ability to metabolize your good fat, the essential fatty acids (EFAs). This means damage to the cell membranes. Hydrogenated fats are sometimes touted as “cholesterol-free,” but they still stick to blood vessels. That can block blood flow and produce inflammatory prostaglandins.
Prostaglandins are potent hormone-like compounds that belong to the eicosanoids family. There are three types of prostaglandins, all of which have specific biological effects. Hydrogenated fats promote inflammation, including skin inflammation. Thus, a diet high in hydrogenated fats can cause acne, oily skin, or dry skin.
More significantly, individuals with eczema appear to have altered EFA metabolism when they consume a significant amount of hydrogenated fat. This leads to an increase in prostaglandins that will bring about dry, scaling, and cracked skin.
Apart from these skin problems, hydrogenated fats can cause obesity, depress the immune system, and increase risk for heart disease, breast cancer, and prostate cancer.
To choose health over convenience, go for such EFA-rich foods as coldwater fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines, and tuna), as well as soy products, olive and flaxseed oils, almonds, and cashews.