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Trans fat used to be more common, but in
recent years food manufacturers have used it
less because of concerns over the health effects
of trans fat. Food manufacturers in the United
States and many other countries list the trans
fat content on nutrition labels.
However, you should be aware of what
nutritional labels really mean when it comes to
trans fat. For example, in the United States if
a food has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per
serving, the food label can read 0 grams trans
fat. Though that’s a small amount of trans fat,
if you eat multiple servings of foods with less
than 0.5 grams of trans fat, you could exceed
recommended limits.
Reading food labels
How do you know whether food contains
trans fat? Look for the words “partially
hydrogenated” vegetable oil. That’s another
term for trans fat.
It sounds counterintuitive, but “fully” or
“completely” hydrogenated oil doesn’t contain
trans fat. Unlike partially hydrogenated oil,
the process used to make fully or completely
hydrogenated oil doesn’t result in trans-
fatty acids. However, if the label says just
“hydrogenated” vegetable oil, it could mean
the oil contains some trans fat.
Although small amounts of trans fat occur
naturally in some meat and dairy products, it’s
the trans fats in processed foods that seem to
be more harmful.
Trans fat and cholesterol
Doctors worry about trans fat because of its
unhealthy effect on your cholesterol levels
- increasing your LDL and decreasing your
HDL cholesterol. There are two main types of
cholesterol:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
LDL, or
“bad,” cholesterol transports cholesterol
throughout your body. LDL cholesterol, when
elevated, builds up in the walls of your arteries,
making them hard and narrow.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL).
HDL, or
“good,” cholesterol picks up excess cholesterol
and takes it back to your liver.
A high LDL cholesterol level is a major risk
factor for heart disease. If your LDL is too
high, over time, it can cause atherosclerosis,
a dangerous accumulation of fatty deposits
on the walls of your arteries. These deposits -
called plaques - can reduce blood flow through
your arteries. If the arteries that supply your
heart with blood (coronary arteries) are
affected, you may have chest pain and other
symptoms of coronary artery disease.
If plaques tear or rupture, a blood clot may
form - blocking the flow of blood or breaking
free and plugging an artery downstream. If
blood flow to part of your heart stops, you’ll
have a heart attack. If blood flow to part of
your brain stops, a stroke occurs.
Other effects of trans fat
Doctors are most concerned about the effect of
trans fat on cholesterol. However, trans fat has
also been shown to have some other harmful
effects:
• Increases triglycerides.
Triglycerides
are a type of fat found in your blood. A
high triglyceride level may contribute to
hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
or thickening of the artery walls — which
increases the risk of stroke, diabetes, heart
attack and heart disease.
• Increases Lp(a) lipoprotein.
Lp(a) is a type
of LDL cholesterol found in varying levels
in your blood, depending on your genetic
makeup. Trans fats make Lp(a) into smaller
and denser lipid particles, which promotes a
buildup of plaques in your arteries.
• Causes more inflammation.
Trans fat may
increase inflammation, which is a process
by which your body responds to injury. It’s
thought that inflammation plays a key role
in the formation of fatty blockages in heart
blood vessels. Trans fat appears to damage
the cells lining blood vessels, leading to
inflammation.
Avoiding trans fat
The good news is trans fat is showing up
less in food, especially food on grocery store
shelves. If you eat out a lot, however, be aware
that some restaurants continue to use trans
fat. Trans fat is sometimes a part of the oil
restaurants use to fry food. A large serving of
french fries at some restaurants can contain 5
grams or more of trans fat.
How much trans fat you can safely consume is
debatable. However, there’s no question you
should limit trans fat, according to the Food
and Drug Administration and the American
Heart Association (AHA).
In the United States, food nutrition labels
don’t list a Daily Value for trans fat because
it’s unknown what an appropriate level of
trans fat is, other than it should be low. The
AHA recommends that no more than 1
percent of your total daily calories be trans
fat. If you consume 2,000 calories a day, that
works out to 2 grams of trans fat or less, or
about 20 calories.
What should you eat?
Don’t think a food that is free of trans
fat is automatically good for you. Food
manufacturers have begun substituting
other ingredients for trans fat. However,
some of these ingredients, such as tropical
oils — coconut, palm kernel and palm oils
— contain a lot of saturated fat. Saturated fat
raises your LDL cholesterol. A healthy diet
includes some fat, but there’s a limit.
In a healthy diet, 25 to 35 percent of your
total daily calories can come from fat — but
saturated fat should account for less than 10
percent of your total daily calories. Aim for
consuming less than 7 percent of your fat
calories from saturated fat if you have high
levels of LDL cholesterol.
Monounsaturated fat - found in olive, peanut
and canola oils - is a healthier option than
is saturated fat. Nuts, fish and other foods
containing unsaturated omega-3 fatty
acids are other good choices of foods with
monounsaturated fats.
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Oct/Nov 2013
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