Frank B. Hu, Meir Stampfer, JoAnn E. Manson, Eric Rimm, Graham Colditz,
Bernard Rosner, Charles Hennekens and Walter C. Willett
New England Journal of Medicine 1997;337:1491-1499

The perpetual junk science machine known as the Nurses Health Study has struck again. This time the target is margarine and other food products made with trans unsaturated fats.

Trans fats keep pastries firm and margarine stiff at room temperature. They are produced when polyunsaturated vegetable fats are artificially hydrogenated. It is estimated that 5 to 10 percent of the fat in the American diet and 5 percent of the fat in American adipose tissue is trans unsaturated fat.

These researchers reported that those who consumed the highest levels of trans fats had a 53 percent increase in coronary heart disease rate over those who consumed the least trans fats. The theory is that trans fats raise LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol) and lower HDL cholesterol levels (good cholesterol).

Of course, exactly who ate how much trans fats (and all other fats) is basically guesswork. The data in the Nurses Health Study is self-reported by study subjects and not verified for accuracy. A weak result (i.e., less than a 100 percent increase in risk) from data of unknown quality hardly makes for good science.

The flakiness of this data is perhaps best represented by the researchers' failure to find an association between total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol intakes and coronary heart disease-- unless of course, we've been fooled all along into believing that high-fat diets are bad for us.

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