Both saturated fats and “trans” fats are harmful to the heart. While it may be impossible to avoid these fats completely, you should try to reduce consumption as much as possible.
Saturated fats: Theoretically, we don’t even need to consume saturated fat, since our body can make its own supply. Consuming saturated fat in your diet increases your cholesterol levels and can lead to clogged arteries, but some saturated fats are worse than others. Those contained in butter and whole-milk dairy products are the worst in terms of raising levels of harmful LDL cholesterol. Those in red meats and other beef products boost LDL slightly less. (Some good news: chocolate boosts LDL the least of all saturated fats. That means you can occasionally indulge in a chocolate or two; just don’t overdo it.) While most liquid oils contain a mixture of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats, try to avoid the so-called tropical oils (those from tropical lands, such as palm oil and coconut oil), which contain the largest percentage of saturated fats.
“Trans” or hydrogenated fats : These are essentially man-made saturated fats, but in some ways are even worse. Trans fats are made by taking a liquid unsaturated oil and bubbling hydrogen gas through it to make the fat hard at room temperature. Not only are these fats bad for your heart, but also recent studies have concluded that they may increase your risk of cancer. The prestigious Institute of Medicine recently concluded that there is no safe level of trans fat in the diet and recommended that people consume as little as possible.
Unfortunately, that won’t be easy. First of all, trans fats are abundant in the typical American diet. The largest source of trans fats is deep fried restaurant foods, such as fried seafood platters, fried chicken, french fries, and doughnuts. Trans fats are also found in many packaged baked good (breads, crackers, cookies), as well as peanut butter that does not have liquid oil on top.
If trans fats are so bad, why are they so prevalent in restaurants and grocery stores ? The simple answer : – Money. Food manufacturers continue to use trans fats because they are inexpensive, extend the shelf life of foods, and make food crispy. They are often used in restaurants because they have a high smoking point, which makes them great for deep frying food.
The FDA will begin enforcing this policy in January 2006. Until packages can catch up with the requirement, read labels carefully. Here are some tips.
Picking a margarine : Softer margarine, such as tub or semiliquid margarines, usually have less trans fats than harder stick margarine. Some types, like Promise and Smart Balance, don’t contain any trans fats. Other “trans-free” brands contain less than half a gram per serving.
Eating out : Go easy on deep-fried foods. Many restaurants now use hydrogenated vegetable oils in their deep fryers. Foods fried this way can be advertised as “cholesterol free” and “cooked in vegetable oil.” Even so, they can deliver a wallop of trans fats.
At the grocery store : Many prepared foods, from cookies and crackers to breaded fish sticks and frozen pot pies, contain trans fats. Right now, you have to squint at the tiny print in the ingredients list for hydrogenated, margarine, shortening, or partially hydrogenated oil. The higher these are on the list, the more trans fat the food contains.
At home: Using olive oil or canola oil for frying is a simple way to avoid trans fats. Baking can be a bit trickier. Try to avoid prepared mixes, and use trans-free margarine whenever possible.
B vitamins : Three B vitamins in particular – B6, B12, and folic acid – appear to protect against heart disease, probably because they reduce levels of homocysteine, a by-product made as your body digests and metabolizes protein. High levels of homocysteine damage artery walls and may increase the risk of heart disease. In the Nurses’ Health Study, it was reported that the risk of heart disease was reduced in the women who took a multivitamin (which was the biggest source of folate and B6 in the study). You can usually obtain the recommended levels by taking a daily multivitamin or eating fortified breakfast cereals.