All nutritionally significant fats come in what is known as a cis configuration. This means that the hydrogen atoms that are removed are from the same side of the carbon backbone and thus forms the double bond. All hydrogen atoms carry a slight electrical charge and so they repel each other. The action causes the carbon chain to kink slightly and it is the property (shape) that gives the fatty acid its unique biochemical role within the body.
Due to the perceived benefits and uses of polyunsaturated fats, food scientists devised processing techniques such as bleaching, deodorising and hydrogenation. These types of processes are applied to the vast majority of our highly manufactured foods. One of the problems with this sort of processing is that it alters the fat from its natural cis configuration to a configuration called trans.
The trans configuration has the hydrogen atoms removed, one from either side of the carbon backbone. This forms a double bond, but unlike the cis configuration there is no interaction between the hydrogen molecules, as their respective electrical charges are balanced out (the complete opposite to the cis configuration). This forces the molecule to straighten out and lose its unique properties, therefore it is no longer able to perform its biological role.
This situation is further exacerbated, as the trans configuration may even have a detrimental biological input. There are hardly any naturally occurring trans fats and so the body has no mechanism to cope with this configuration. Almost all processed foods have a degree of processed oils and fats present in them, such as cakes, bread, sweets, chocolates and ready meals.
The processing of fats produces a form of fatty acid that the body cannot utilise. Furthermore, evidence is coming to light that processed fats may even be detrimental to good health. Therefore, they have no place in an athlete’s diet or anybody else’s diet. It is the change in the chemical structure of the fat that is significant.