Weekly Health Tip: Why Trans Fats Are the Bad Guys

Brought to you by Deepak Chopra, MD, Alexander Tsiaras, and TheVisualMD.com

Surely you’ve heard the bad news about trans fats. New York City has banned their use in restaurants. Many state governments have taken action to limit their consumption and use in mass-produced foods. And health experts around the world agree that their presence in foods should be reduced to trace amounts, if not eliminated. Why does this kind of fat inspire dire health warnings and legal action? Because trans fats raise the risk of coronary heart disease, and play no positive nutritional role. Most trans fats are created by adding hydrogen to certain unsaturated fats. The hydrogen makes these fats slower to spoil on a store shelf or in a restaurant pantry than other fats, which is why trans fats had been used in many packaged foods and restaurant cooking. These partially hydrogenated fats raise the level of LDL cholesterol, which is bad for your arteries, and lower the level of HDL cholesterol, which is beneficial to your arteries. Numerous studies have found that people who consume a lot of trans fats have a higher risk of developing plaques in their arteries, which leads to coronary heart disease. And that’s why trans fats are the outlaws of the nutritional world!

The good news is that it is becoming easier to avoid trans fats, in light of the new legal limitations on their use. Knowing where these dietary bombshells are hidden is your best defense against habits that will ruin your heart health. Start by reading nutrition labels: In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration mandated listing trans fat amounts on packaged food. The legal definition of “trans fat-free” is less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. Look for the phrases “partially hydrogenated oil” or “vegetable shortening.” Those are ingredient-list code for trans fats. Seek out foods with no trans fats, or just trace amounts. The American Heart Association recommends that no one eat more than 2 grams of trans fats per day. None at all is even better. Many restaurants now post nutrition information online. Before you order, scan the menu for items without trans fats. (Pay attention to saturated fat and sodium, while you’re at it. Those can be bad guys, too!) Do you have a favorite snack or fast-food splurge? Do you have any idea whether it contains trans fats? Try to find nutrition information on your treat by checking the company’s nutrition information online, and let us know what you find out.

Learn more about your cardiovascular health:

TheVisualMD.com: The Cardiovascular Continuum