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Trans fats increase risk of heart disease


Last updated 6/12/2008 at Noon

According to the American Journal of Public Health, trans fats caused an estimated 30,000 deaths in the US from heart disease annually.

The American Diabetes Association states that trans fats are linked to heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of diabetes-related deaths and adults with diabetes have heart disease rates about two to four times higher than adults without diabetes.

What are trans fats?

Trans fats are a specific type of fat formed when liquid oil is made into a solid form like shortening and hard margarine. The process is called hydrogenation.

Trans fats can occur naturally in trace amounts in meat and dairy products (milk and meat from cows). Most trans fat consumed today are industrially created by partially hydrogenating plant oils.

Why were trans fats produced?

In the early 1900s the main goal for partial hydrogenation was to increase food product shelf life and decrease refrigeration requirements. This process was also perfect for baking and flavor stability. In 1911 Crisco was the first commercialized product with hydrogenation shortening.

How can trans fats be harmful?

Throughout the years we’ve learned that, unlike monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, trans fats are neither essential nor healthy. Trans fat increases the risk of coronary artery disease by raising levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lowering levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

What types of foods contain trans fats?

Trans fats can be found in the same foods as saturated fat, such as vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods and other processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

What are the FDA regulations?

On January 1, 2006, the FDA made it mandatory for food manufactures to include trans fat on the nutritional fact labels of all food products. They estimate that by 2009, trans fat labeling will have prevented between 600 and 1,200 cases of coronary heart disease and 250 to 500 deaths each year.

This is with the hopes that consumers will choose healthier foods lower in trans fats as well as manufacturers reducing the amount of trans fats in their products.

Can foods have trans fat even if there are zero grams of trans fat listed?

Yes. According to the FDA, food manufactures do not have to list trans fats if it contains less than 0.5 grams (half a gram) trans fats per serving.

The only way to know if there is trans fat in the product is to read the ingredients. If the ingredients have “shortening” or “partially hydrogenated” this means the food contains trans fat.

A certified diabetes educator’s opinion

As a certified diabetes educator, I encourage and recommend everyone to start reading nutritional facts labels.

It is not enough to just read the labeling; you must also read the ingredients. If you find a food item with zero grams of trans fat per serving but the ingredients list contains the term “partially hydrogenated,” put the product back on the shelf.

Just think, you find an item as listed above and you choose to eat five servings; how much trans fat are you really eating? Assuming each serving has half a gram of trans fat, in reality you are getting about 2.5 grams of trans fats per five servings.

Please read the nutritional labels and ingredients to assist in lowering your consumption of trans fat in your meal plan, which will reduce your risk of heart disease.

Make great choices every day. Read the labels and the list of ingredients. You are in control.

Kaishawn McDuffie, RN, BSN, CDE, is a registered nurse and a certified diabetes educator.

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