Heart Care

Americans' Blood Levels of Trans Fats on the Decline

Thanks to a push by public health agencies like the CDC, some Americans are eating less trans fats. That's good news for heart health, because trans fats raise the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Photo of man taking a bite out of a giant hoagie

The CDC analyzed data on adults who took part in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2000 to 2009. CDC researchers wanted to see how much blood levels of trans fat changed after the federal law on trans fat went into effect in 2006. The law requires food and certain dietary supplement companies to list the amount of trans fat on a product's Nutrition Facts label.

The food culprits

Foods high in trans fats include store-bought baked goods such as crackers, cookies and cakes, many fried foods, and some shortenings and margarines. Unlike other dietary fats, trans fats are not necessary for good nutrition. Eating a lot of trans fats raises LDL ("bad") cholesterol, which in turn boosts the risk for cardiovascular disease.

The researchers found that the amount of blood levels of trans fat fell by 58 percent during the study period.

"The 58 percent decline shows substantial progress that should help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in adults," says Christopher Portier, Ph.D., director of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health.

Limited focus

The drawback of the study, published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, is that it looked at trans fat levels only in white adults. Additional CDC studies are under way to examine blood trans fat levels among adults in other racial and ethnic groups and in children and teens.

The study's encouraging results should spur additional public health initiatives on nutrition and health, says Howard Weintraub, M.D., at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

"The new CDC report shows that people are concerned about trans fats, since a nearly 60 percent decrease is really impressive," Dr. Weintraub says. "But Americans are still getting fatter, and diabetes is getting higher. We shouldn't feel we have these epidemics beat because trans-fats are down."

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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April 2012

Fats and a Healthy Diet

Not all fats are bad. You just have to know how to maximize the healthy fats and minimize the unhealthy fats. Unhealthy fats contribute to hardening of the arteries and can lead to heart disease and stroke.

Change your fat mix

Fact: Monounsaturated fats like canola oil and olive oil can improve blood-cholesterol levels and reduce the risk for heart disease.

Tip: Substitute monounsaturated fats for the saturated fat and some polyunsaturated fat in recipes and meal planning.

Fat-free vs. low-calorie

Fact: Just because a food product is labeled "fat-free" or "low-fat" doesn't mean it's good for you. When a food manufacturer removes the fat, something has to take its place. Usually that's sugar. Fat-free and low-fat foods can have just as many calories as the regular version and cause weight gain if you eat too much of them.

Tip: A better approach, if you're craving something in particular, is to have just a couple of bites of the real thing, then push it aside.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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