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Simple Math Might Prolong Your Life

Computing the fat content of foods could help you avoid the unhealthiest fats

FRIDAY, Feb. 20, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Warnings about the health dangers of trans fats seem to be everywhere -- and with good reason.

The unhealthiest of all fats, trans fats pose a double threat to your arteries. They raise the level of the bad cholesterol -- low-density lipoprotein (LDL) -- and lower the good cholesterol -- high-density lipoprotein (HDL). They're found in vegetable shortening, some margarines, crackers, candies, baked goods, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, salad dressings and many processed foods, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Trans-fat consumption results in at least 30,000 deaths from heart disease each year in the United States, say Harvard School of Public Health researchers.

To help lower your intake of trans fat, the Harvard Women's Health Watch offers the following advice:

  • Read food labels. If a food product lists shortening or hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil as one of its first ingredients, that means it contains a lot of trans fat.
  • Do the simple math to figure out trans fat content of foods. Add the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats to the saturated fats. Subtract that sum from the "Total Fat" listed on the label. The result equals the amount of trans fat in the product.
  • Pay attention to margarine. The softer margarine is at room temperature, the lower its trans fat content. The best choices are margarines labeled "trans fat-free."
  • Use canola oil or olive oil when frying food. Be careful when eating in restaurants. Foods that are fried in trans fat-laden partially hydrogenated vegetable oil often are labeled as being "cholesterol free" or "cooked in vegetable oil."
  • Make your own food when possible. Commercial breads, soups, cereals, dips, salad dressings and packaged entrees usually have hidden trans fats.

More information

To learn more about food fats, go to the American Heart Association.

SOURCE: Harvard Women's Health Watch, news release, Feb. 13, 2004
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