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Hot Topics - Diet

Consumer Reports ® says, "You've probably heard about the meltdown of margarine's reputation. While hard margarine contains much less artery-clogging saturated fat than butter, it's actually loaded with another type of fat--trans fat--that may be just as bad for your arteries. But you may not know that the same trans fat lurks in thousands of other foods. Fast-food chains now fry with vegetable oil, which is low in saturated fat. Similarly, a host of packaged foods--such as doughnuts, cakes, fruit pies, pot pies, popcorn, puffs, chips, crackers, cookies, croissants, and frozen waffles--are made with apparently heart-friendly vegetable oil. But the oil in all of those fast or packaged foods may have been chemically altered. So it may contain lots of trans fat--which is not listed on labels... The three largest or longest epidemiologic studies tend to support that notion. In the Nurses Health Study from Harvard, those who consumed the most trans fat were 53 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who consumed the least." [From "Trans fat: Unlabeled and unhealthy", November 1998].

"Trans Fat to Debut on Label" - Nutrition News Focus reports (Nov. 17),

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced today that trans fatty acids will be required on the nutrition label. Currently they simply disappear into total fat content. There will be a period of public comment, a final rule will be published, and manufacturers will have two years to put this information on the side of the package; so it may be as late as 2002 before you see an extra line for this type of fat.

The health effects of trans fats are heatedly debated. Most evidence shows that they raise total and LDL (bad) cholesterol while lowering the good HDL cholesterol. The debate is really about how bad these fats are. Some believe they are the worst while others think they are not as bad as saturated fat for heart disease. However, there are many contradictory studies on this and many studies have not been well controlled enough to make firm conclusions.

HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Food manufacturers use hydrogenated fats mostly to replace saturated fats, because they have similar functional effects in fried and baked products. It is likely that the trans fat content of foods will decrease when they have to appear on the label."

"Soft Fat Hard Fat" - Nutrition News Focus reports (Jul 27), "Trans fatty acids have been controversial for over 20 years. Scientists don't agree on how much we are eating or on how bad they actually are."

"Trans Fats: What Myths Are Made From" - Nutrition News Focus reports (Jul 27), "Trans fatty acids have many useful functional properties in foods. They are not there because the manufacturers don't care about our health. If you want a cracker that does not go rancid during the summer or leaves a greasy stain on the pantry shelf, you cannot make it with a highly unsaturated fat like soybean oil. If you are not overdoing the snack food, this should not be a concern."

"Fatheads?" - My November 1997 critique of the Nurses Health Study on dietary fat -- the primary study Consumer Reports uses to scare readers about trans fats.

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