Feeding Your Family: Stay Away from Trans Fats!

For Healthy Hearts...

Recipe Link: Breaded Tilapia Fillets

By Larissa Phillips

It's not that I don't love Valentine's Day. Who can be against flowers and chocolate and luscious red hearts, and did I mention chocolate? But there is something missing from the overall picture, when so much of the delicious symbolism of this holiday - chocolates and cookies - contains a substance that has been all but outlawed in some countries, and has been implicated in the deaths of thousands of Americans every year. I'm talking about trans fats.

I know you already know this. My friend Diane already knows it, too. When I was at her house the other day and she caught me sneaking a glance at the ingredient list on a carton of crackers she'd just opened for our kids, she practically shouted, "I know, I know, it has trans fats. I know they're so bad." Then she shrugged helplessly. "But my kids love these crackers!"

We all know trans fats are bad. But just how bad they are seems to be eluding many of us. I don't believe anyone could understand the charges that have been leveled against trans fat and still continue to feed them to their children - or to themselves.

Trans fats are created when a liquid vegetable oil is industrially altered to make it a more stable fat, such as shortening. This makes a cheap source of fat. Foods containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils have an almost indefinite shelf life. They also contain trans fats.

Many of us have heard by now that trans fats lower a body's "good" cholesterol (HDL) and raise its level of "bad" cholesterol (LDL) - and right about there people's eyes glaze over and they stop listening. They don't even get to the part about the higher levels of triglycerides and lipoproteins, which have been linked to heart disease. Or the sticky platelets, which can lead to blood clots in the heart and brain.

But here's something you might not have heard: The Center for Science in the Public Interest estimates that if all artificial trans fats were eliminated from the U.S. food supply, 30,000 lives a year would be saved, along with $50 billion dollars a year in health costs. Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School for Public Health, believes that a complete ban on trans fats could result in even higher numbers of lives saved.

Or how about this one, from the famous Nurses' Health Study? Women who ate the most trans fats over a 14-year period were twice as likely to develop fatal heart disease. Women who ate the least trans fats, and also consumed most healthy fats, were 70 percent less likely to develop any heart disease at all.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States. Consuming trans fats appears, in study after study, to be a major factor in the development of fatal heart disease. When I'm compiling my shopping list, an industrially created substance that has anything at all to do with the most deadly disease in the United States is not going to make it on to my list.

And when I shop for chocolate cookies and boxes of chocolate and other treats and snacks, the first thing I do is read the ingredient list. If it contains trans fats, hydrogenated oil, partially hydrogenated oil, or shortening, I don't buy it. I'd rather - and as a confirmed chocoholic, this is really saying something - have no chocolate at all. I have the choice, so I make it.

Here's to a whole nation of happy, healthy hearts on Valentine's Day.

More from Feeding Your Family Columnist Larissa Phillips

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Health Check: Love Your Heart - Eat Fat

Featured Recipe: Breaded Tilapia Fillets

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