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Heart Disease | Love Your Heart? Give Trans Fats the Boot

Love Your Heart? Give Trans Fats the Boot

Fake fats

Through a laboratory process called hydrogenation, a liquid fat can be made solid, and trans fats are born. The resultant fat is more stable, making it useful for extending the shelf life of processed foods and capable of withstanding high temperatures, like those used in frying. Packaged foods—crackers, cookies, cakes, and pastries—account for the large majority of dietary trans fats, which also occur naturally in lesser amounts in some animal products such as dairy, beef, and lamb.

While trans fats were a temporary boon to the food industry, growing awareness of their negative impact on health have made it clear that artificially produced trans fats have no place in the human diet. They have been linked to heart disease, infertility, and colon cancer.

In the study that found a connection between trans fats and heart attacks, researchers looked at levels of trans fats in red blood cells of 32,826 women as part of the Nurses’ Health Study to see if they were correlated to heart disease. The results were published in the American Heart Association journal, Circulation.

To no one’s surprise, higher levels of trans fats in red blood cells were associated with higher LDL cholesterol levels and higher LDL-to-HDL ratios, another risk factor for heart disease. Women with the highest trans fats levels were more than three times as likely to suffer a heart attack or to die of heart disease as were women with the lowest levels.

I spy trans fats

Denmark was the first country to limit the amount of trans fats allowable in food, effectively banning their use. Since then, Canada and Switzerland have followed suit. All foods sold in the US must bear labels disclosing the amount of trans fat in the product, and New York City restaurants have banned the use of trans fats altogether.

Get label savvy

• There is no % daily value for trans fats, so be sure to look for the number of grams on ingredient labels (listed under saturated fat on the label).

• Avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated oil, even if the label states “zero grams trans fat.” The FDA allows for products containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving to claim zero trans fat.

• Limit your intake of saturated fats to less than 20 grams per day, as these fats also increase heart disease risk.

February 26, 2009

(Circulation 2007;115:1858–65)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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The health information contained in this site is not intended as medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for appropriate medical care. Any products mentioned in studies cited in Healthnotes articles are not necessarily endorsed by Bastyr. As with any product, consult with a natural health practitioner to discuss what may be best for you.

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