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Health Checkup: July 31, 2008

Importance of Cutting Trans Fat

The American Heart Association published a study in one of its scholarly journals within the past year that suggests that trans fats are even more damaging to the heart than saturated fats.

Trans fats impair blood vessel function one-third more than saturated fats and lowers good cholesterol 20 percent or more.

Clearly, consumers should avoid trans fats, which are commonly found in margarine, restaurant fried foods and packaged baked goods and snacks. Even giant food companies are fleeing from trans fats: McDonald's took the leap first by switching cooking oils in 2002 to reduce the amount of trans fatty acids in its food by almost half.

Frito-Lay followed suit, unveiling plans to eliminate trans fats from Doritos, Tostitos and Cheetos. McDonald's and Frito Lay are two of America's best-known names on the American market. If giant food companies such as these are fleeing from trans fats, so should we.

Trans fats are created liquid fats, such as corn or soybean oil, are treated with hydrogen to make them solid at room temperature and, in some cases, prolong product shelf life. Looking for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils in food-product ingredient lists is one clue to the presence of trans fat.

Currently, food manufacturers are not required to list trans fats, although things are in the works to get this done -- perhaps as early as this year. However, until labeling improves, the heart association offers the following suggestions for steering clear of these heart-damaging substances:

* Use naturally occurring unhydrogenated oils such as peanut, olive or canola.

* When purchasing processed foods, choose those containing unhydrogenated oils and avoid those with hydrogenated oils or saturated fats.

* Choose soft margarines -- the spreadable ones in tubs -- rather than stick margarines or butter. You still want to avoid butter's saturated fats. The best soft margarines are those that list liquid vegetable oil as a first ingredient and have no more than two grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.

* Steer clear of fatty fried foods and snack foods such as doughnuts, french fries, cookies and crackers.

We now see the use of trans fats in processed foods declining (when shopping, note how often you now see the words "No Trans Fat!" or something similar), in part because food companies want their products to compare favorably with those of their competitors.

Make it a point to purchase foods with those labels -- it's getting easier and easier to find them every month!



A medium order of fries contains 14.5 grams of trans fat.

Donuts contain 5 grams of trans fat a piece along with 5 grams of saturated fat.

Butter only has .3 grams of trans fat per tablespoon while stick margarine has 2.8.

More than 23 Americans are living with diabetes

Issue 3.31: July 31, 2008