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Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Ugly Fats are Trans Fats

In my last post I talked about saturated fats.  Well there is another fat that acts like a saturated fat but is even worse for your heart health than saturated fats.  If olive oil is the good fat and saturated fats are the bad fats, what are the truly ugly fats in terms of heart health?  The truly ugly fats are trans fats.
What are trans fats? 
You don’t go to the store and buy “trans fats” like you buy cooking oil.  Trans fats are man-made fats, solid fats manufacturers make from liquid oils.  Why do manufacturers make trans fats?   They do this because trans fats have a longer shelf life, are easier to ship and store, and are more stable than liquid oils.  Unfortunately for us, what is good for manufacturers is not so good for our heart health.    In actuality, manufacturers began to use trans fats because of the consumer back lash against saturated fats.  It was actually thought that trans fats were a better health alternative than saturated fats.  Then in the 1990’s researchers discovered trans fats raised LDL levels, but also  may lower our good cholesterol (HDL).  That is why the Mayo Clinic  headline is:  “Trans fat is double trouble for your heart health.”  (see  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/trans-fat/CL00032).   
Why are trans fats so bad for your health? 
As noted in the previous post, saturated fats can clog your arteries, which increases your chances of a heart attack or stroke.  Like saturated fats, trans fats also lead to clogged arteries because trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels.   WebMD reports that a Nurse’s Health Study found that women who had the most trans fats in their diet raised their risk of heart attack by 50%.  (http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/trans-fats-science-and-risks?page=2) .    It seems trans fats aren’t just a problem for our arteries but also seem to raise our risk of developing diabetes.  Many nutritionists, researchers and doctors consider trans fats to be the worst type of fat. 
What foods have trans fats? 
Trans fats are found in many commonly eaten processed foods including crackers, cereals, candy, baked goods including cookies, cakes, and chips, snack foods, fried foods like doughnuts and French fries.   Smalls amounts of trans fats occur naturally in some foods like meat, butter and milk.  But most of our dietary trans fats comes from processed foods. 
How do you know if a food has trans fats?  One way is to read the label.  FDA requires manufacturers to list the amount of trans fat on the nutrition label.  Another way is to look for partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list. 
Some manufacturers are not touting the fact their processed foods no longer contains trans fats and the label will proudly state, “NO TRANS FATS”, which is a good thing for our health.  But some restaurants still use trans fats such as in frying foods like French fries.  If they do, one large serving of their French fries can contain 5 grams of trans fat. 
Is there a recommended limit on the amount of trans fat we should eat each day?
Yes, the American Heart Association recommends we limit trans fats to 1% or less of our total calories.  So if you eat 2000 calories a day, the amount of trans fat in your diet should be 2 grams or less.  So much for the large serving of French fries.   An easy way to avoid trans fats is to cook at home.  Then you can choose the oil you bake and cook with. 
What is the best oil to choose for a healthy heart?  As stated previously, Olive oil is a great choice.   Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat that is seen as one of the better and healthier fats to choose.  Virgin olive oil contains phytochemicals which have been shown to protect against heart disease.   Thus, if you are looking for heart healthy oil, choose olive oil.  Other monounsaturated fats that are healthier choices are peanut oil and canola oils. 

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