Although the Food and Drug Administration announced this week it will forbid the use of heart-damaging trans fats in food, the ban is expected to take years to implement. In the meantime, there are simple steps you can take to combat the dangers of this artificial, artery-clogging ingredient, says a top cardiologist.
“Artificial trans fats are a huge factor in promoting inflammation, raising cholesterol, and ultimately causing coronary heart disease,” Chauncey Crandall, M.D., tells Newsmax Health.
The FDA this week took the first step toward banning food manufacturers from using partially hydrogenated oils, the main dietary source of artificial trans fats.
Removing these manmade oils from processed foods will prevent some 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 coronary deaths each year, according to government estimates.
The actual toll of trans fats is actually far higher than these numbers suggest, said Dr. Crandall, author of the best-selling book, The Simple Heart Cure.
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“Trans fats cause inflammation, which is increasingly seen as the cause to many other serious health problems in our country, including obesity, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and arthritis,” he added. “Coronary heart disease is only one of the devastating effects of hydrogenated oils.”
Artificial trans fats – also known as trans fatty acids—are made by adding hydrogen to liquid oil, usually soybean oil. This turns it into a semi-solid, like margarine or Crisco. Trans fats improve the texture, stability, and shelf life of processed foods.
Trans fats have been added to American foods since 1911 when Procter & Gamble made
Crisco the first of many products to contain hydrogenated oil. In the 1980s, consumer groups began campaigning against the use of saturated fats to fry fast foods. In response, most fast food chains switched from beef tallow or tropical oils to trans fats in their deep fryers.
In the 1990s, however, that move became widely viewed as a mistake as study after study showed that trans fats were even more heart unhealthy than saturated fats. Researchers found that trans fats not only increased blood levels of “bad” or LDL-cholesterol, but it also reduced “good,” or HDL-cholesterol.
Their use has declined rapidly since 2006, when the government mandated that trans fats in packaged foods be revealed on labels. They are now primarily used in packaged desserts, baked good, margarine, coffee creamers, microwave popcorn, and frozen pizza.
The labeling requirement does have a loophole, however. If a food item contains less than a half gram of trans fats, the manufacturer is allowed to “round down” and claim on the label that is has zero trans fats. Many health advocates say even this small amount of trans fats is dangerous.
However, Dr. Crandall says there is an even more ominous threat.
“The problem isn’t only trans fats in our supermarket foods, the greater danger is that people have no idea what they are eating in restaurant, where the food can be full of trans fats and you have no way of knowing it,” said Dr. Crandall, chief of the cardiac transplant program at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic.
“Restaurants can buy any cheap ingredients they want and just throw them together to make them taste good and consumers have no idea what they are eating.”
Dr. Crandall, author of the Heart Health Report
newsletter, recommends the following six steps to protect yourself from trans fats:
- Drink five-to-eight glasses of water a day, which can help remove fats from your system.
- Eat plenty fresh fruit and vegetable to help combat the damage of trans fats.
- Read labels carefully so that you can see if foods contain trans fats. Be aware that this is not foolproof. Companies are allowed to claim zero trans fat if an item has a half-gram or less per serving. Small amounts can add up.
- Avoid the ingredient “partially hydrogenated oils.” They are the main source of trans fats.
- Choose butter, not margarine. Even though butter contains saturated fat, it is a natural product, and therefore healthier. Margarine often contains trans fats.
- Beware of chain restaurants. They are danger zones in which you can get a huge dose of trans fats. If you do eat fast food, first check nutritional information online – calorieking.com is one excellent resource.
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