Trans Fats & Heart Health
When you get your blood tested for cholesterol, you typically get a panel that includes total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL), high density lipoprotein (HDL), and triglycerides. To reduce your risk of heart disease and better manage existing heart disease, you want your LDL level low and your HDL level high. Altering the TYPE of fat you eat can affect both of these lipid levels.
Synthetic Trans Fats
Synthetic trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are the most harmful fats in terms of heart health since they raise our LDL level while lowering our HDL level. That’s a particularly bad double-whammy. Unfortunately, they are plentiful in the food supply. In regular and fast food restaurants, they lurk in deep-fat fried foods and in many desserts (cakes, pastries, pie crust, cookies, and shakes). Chain restaurants are required to have nutrition information available, so either check for trans fat content online, or ask the store manager for nutrition information. If you use MyNetDiary, you can track trans fats and view contents of meal items on the web or on the mobile apps.
In packaged foods, anything that contains “partially hydrogenated oils” will contain synthetic trans fats. Unfortunately, because of a quirky labeling law, any food that contains less than ½ gram of trans fats can be reported as “0 grams.” That means we need to read the list of ingredients to locate partially hydrogenated oils. No amount of synthetic trans fats is considered healthful, so switch brands if the products you currently buy contain them.
Stick margarine and vegetable shortening are particularly high in trans fats so avoid them completely. Instead of stick margarine, use soft-tub margarine with no partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list. Instead of regular shortening, use trans-fat free shortening or switch to lard or butter if the substitution will work in terms of flavor and texture.
Shelf-stable packaged foods are also likely candidates for containing synthetic trans fats. Be sure to check the ingredient list of doughnuts, cakes/muffins (including mixes), cookies, candy, crackers, chips, microwavable popcorn, prepared frosting, and whipped toppings.
Naturally Occurring Trans Fats
Naturally occurring trans fats come from meats and butterfat. If you limit intake of meat and butterfat, you will limit intake of naturally occurring trans fats. The rule of thumb for a portion size of meat is 3 oz cooked, or about the size of a deck of cards.
Conjugated Linoleic acid (CLA) is a naturally occurring trans fat found mostly in beef and dairy products. This particular fat appears to have health benefits, so you do not need to cut out all beef or butterfat to ensure heart health. CLS is found in the non-visible, interstitial fat (within the edible meat) as well as in the visible fat. If you choose lean cuts of meat, you will get the benefit of CLA without ingesting too much saturated fat. As well, consuming small amounts of full-fat dairy or including low fat dairy will provide CLA while limiting intake of saturated fat.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting total trans fat intake to less than 1% of your calories intake. To calculate your goal, multiply your calories goal by 0.01, and then divide by 9. For instance, if your caloric goal is 1800 calories, then your total trans fat intake would be less than 2 grams. To maximize your heart health, consider this goal for naturally occurring trans fat and completely avoid all forms of synthetic trans fats.
For more information on other dietary fats, see “Fats” on MyNetDiary’s website.
Have questions about this topic? Let’s hear from you! Post your questions on MyNetDiary’s Forum.
Kathy Isacks, MPS, RD
Consulting Dietitian for MyNetDiary
More Online Resources
The American Heart Association. “What Your Blood Cholesterol Levels Mean.”
Harvard School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source: Shining the Spotlight on Trans Fats.
Eynard, AL and Lopez, CB. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) versus saturated fats/cholesterol: their proportion in fatty and lean meats may affect the risk of developing colon cancer. Lipids Health Dis. 2003; 2: 6. Accessed online at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC201014/
Disclaimer: Please note that we cannot provide personalized advice and that the information provided does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit a medical professional.