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Transfats: What's all the Fuss?

Artery-Clogging Trans Fats

First, Girl Scout cookies. Then, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now, Dunkin Donuts.

Many of our favorite fried and snack foods are being re-invented, mixing up new formulas that leave out artery-clogging trans fats.

"There's a tremendous obesity epidemic in this country and because that's not improving, there's a need for drastic measures," says Dr. Peter Oettgen, a lipid specialist with The CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

What are trans fat?

Trans fats come from adding hydrogen to vegetable oil to make it more solid.

Using trans fats can help foods stay fresh longer, increase their shelf life and can create a better consistency. They were once thought a better alternative to saturated fats, because trans fats are made from plant oils.

What are the risks?

Studies since 1990 have showed trans fats can clog arteries, putting people at greater risk for heart disease.

"Basically, these are the least healthy type of fat out there," says Liz Moore, RD, LDN, a dietitian with the Health and Lipid Center at The CardioVascular Institute. "These work negatively in both directions of your cholesterol -- lowering your good cholesterol or HDL and increasing your bad cholesterol or LDL.

What foods are high in trans fats?

Foods high in trans fat include:

  • Crackers
  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Some stick margarines
  • Fried foods

What is the recommended daily intake?

While the Food and Drug Administration estimates most Americans eat 5.8 grams of trans fat each day -- as much as 14 grams may be lurking in a medium order of french fries. The American Heart Association urges adults to eat as little trans fat as possible, keeping the amount below 1% of our total energy intake.

In January of last year, the government began requiring food makers to list trans fat amounts on the label, making it easier for consumers to limit their intake.

Banning Trans Fats From Restaurant Food

Massachusetts could become the first state in the country to ban trans fats from restaurant food. Some cities, like Brookline, Massachusetts and even New York City, have already done so.

"Because cities are talking about banning it from restaurants, the word has gotten out there about the dangers of trans fats," says Moore.

"It will raise awareness," agrees Dr. Oettgen, noting it could also raise a false sense of security. "People just can't go into a restaurant and assume they can have anything they want because there is no trans fat. That could lead to overeating."

Removing Partially Hydrogenated Fats from Food Supply

The Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations from the American Heart Association do point out that even if partially hydrogenated fats were removed from the food supply, there would still be trans fat in the diet because "some trans fatty acids are produced from deodorization of vegetable oils and because meat and dairy products contain naturally occurring trans fatty acids."

Taking Trans Fats Out of Your Diet

"Taking trans fat out of the diet, as much as possible, will benefit people," says Dr. Oettgen. "However, other changes in the diet including reductions in soft drink consumption and other fast foods will be necessary in order to make a significant impact on obesity and resulting heart disease in America."

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in partnership with the American Heart Association. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Contact Information

CardioVascular Institute at
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215

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