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Tracking the trans fats in food to better health

Trans fats are those artery-clogging mystery fats that for years have eluded our nutrition labels, making it difficult to know where they are lurking. At long last we will learn where they hide and how we can avoid them. Recently the Food and Drug Administration passed a law requiring food manufacturers to list on the nutrition label the amount of trans fats in a food. Some manufacturers have already begun including trans fats on labels, but they will have until 2006 to make the changes.

Most trans fats in our food come from the fat formed when food manufacturers convert liquid oils into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine. This process, known as hydrogenation, protects against spoiling and helps foods keep their flavor longer.

In the past, the only way we could identify what foods contained trans fats was to look for the terms "hydrogenated oil" or "partially hydrogenated oil" listed as the first or second ingredient on a food label.

Trans fats are of concern to us because they act like saturated fats by raising the LDL cholesterol that increases your risk of heart disease. They also lower HDL, the good cholesterol. The bottom line is that you should try to eat foods with both less saturated fats and trans fats.

Foods that contain trans fats include vegetable shortening, some margarines, crackers, cookies, candies, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, salad dressings, and other foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Small amounts of trans fats can also be found in some animal fats such as butter, cheese, beef, and lamb.

We all eat four to five times more saturated fat than trans fat. Therefore, try to eat foods with less combined saturated and trans fats. So, if a doughnut has 5 grams of saturated fat and 5 grams of trans fat, it has 10 grams of unhealthy fat.

To lower the amount of trans fats and saturated fats you get:

-Replace saturated fat and trans fat with monounsaturated fats such as olive and canola oil and polyunsaturated fats, such as soybean and corn oil and nuts.

-Choose vegetable oils, except coconut and palm kernel oils, and soft margarine more often in place of butter, stick margarine and shortening.

-Eat fish several times a week to get heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

-Choose foods low in saturated fat, such as non-fat or low-fat foods, lean meat, fish, skinless poultry, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nonstick sprays.

Web posted on Thursday, February 24, 2005


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